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Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Jeremy Hellickson ‘gets work in,’ but struggles to get results against Cleveland

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — When he took the mound Friday to face the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Jeremy Hellickson was making just his second spring start in two years.

His last time out — on Sunday — he enjoyed a one-hit effort over two innings against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. He struck out one in the outing.

The spring start previous to that for Hellickson came in late March of 2013; the 27-year-old missed last spring while recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow.

The start two years ago was a rough one. It was the pitcher’s final tune-up before beginning the regular season with the Tampa Bay Rays, and it came against the Detroit Tigers in a Grapefruit League tilt. He allowed eight runs — six earned — on seven hits.

Friday’s outing looked a lot more like that performance than it did Sunday’s.

The pitcher struggled from the get-go, allowing five of the first six Indians batters he faced to reach base safely while struggling to make first-pitch strikes.

“I felt good,” he said after exiting the game in the second inning. “That was about the only thing that went right. I just left too many balls up. You know, it started really the first pitch of the game, and I just didn’t make an adjustment, but I felt good.”

Hellickson lasted just 1.2 innings, allowing five extra-base hits and two home runs. But, being spring, he was of course working on specific things — trying to get results with his mechanics, command and the like, not just outs on the scoreboard. Against Cleveland, he was looking for results from his curveball — specifically when it was thrown while he was behind in the count. And he tried to work off of his changeup.

“I thought I made some good pitches that got hit,” he explained. “I just fell behind to too many guys that second inning. Just couldn’t get the fastball down.”

Hellickson said his changeup was his best pitch on the afternoon, but struggled to locate his four-seam fastball down in the zone and couldn’t seem to find the outside corner, which both he and his manager later pointed out.

“He looked like he was struggling to get strikes, and then when he had to come in the zone, they were right on him,” D-backs manager Chip Hale explained.

Hale went on to point out that Indians manager Terry Francona had major league hitters frontloaded in his lineup. In the pitcher’s second frame of work, he allowed a pair of home runs to two of those hitters — outfielder Michael Bourn and shortstop Jose Ramirez, a duo who combined for five home runs all of last season.

Another one of those hitters was cleanup man Carlos Santana. After allowing a single to him in the hitter’s first at-bat, Hellickson fooled him in the second inning, managing a three-pitch strikeout.

“Threw some good changeups to him,” he explained. “That was probably my best at-bat of the day. I got ahead of him 0-2, and then I could make him chase a little bit. But you know he doesn’t swing at too many balls, so I had to make a good pitch with the changeup.”

The at-bat was surely one of the few tangible results from Friday’s effort. And really, the struggles against the Indians hold true with Hellickson’s results on paper from springs past. In 2012 and 2013, the former American League Rookie of the Year pitched to 9.00 and 6.75 ERAs, respectively, during Grapefruit League play with the Rays.

But paper is not where Hale’s sights are.

“He got his work in. He got his pitches in, which is important right now,” the manager said. “He’s a major leaguer. We know that. He just had to get his work in.”