Questions still aplenty as Orioles welcome addition of Jeremy Hellickson ahead of deadline

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

With two days left before the nonwaiver trade deadline and plenty of questions hanging about the the Orioles’ path forward, the acquisition of right-hander Jeremy Hellickson late Friday night has already been shrouded in that same uncertainty before he even reported to the club.

Manager Buck Showalter said Hellickson, who came to the Orioles on Friday for left fielder Hyun Soo Kim and minor league pitcher Garrett Cleavinger, was en route to the airport to join the Orioles in Texas when his car was rear-ended. Hellickson was in contact with pitching coach Roger McDowell for most of the day and said he felt fine, but had to accompany his girlfriend to the emergency room. The team hopes he can make it to Baltimore on Sunday to throw a bullpen session and prepare for his pending Orioles debut, whenever it may be. The team hasn't added a player to replace Kim.

As for how he’ll impact the club’s attempt to erase a large deficit in the wild-card standings, or how he’ll fit into a rotation that ranks as the worst in the American League seems up in the air to Showalter. So much hinges on the rest of the club’s potential deadline activity, including possible trades of top relievers Zach Britton and Brad Brach or further efforts to bolster the rotation.

“Well, we'll see,” Showalter said. “I know where he is statistically over there and where he was last year. I know what he was like when he was with Tampa. We'll see. He's fastball-changeup, added a cutter, curveball. Athletic. Holds runners. He's going to face a couple more hitters over here. We'll see. We'll see.”

Executive vice president Dan Duquette did not respond to requests for comment about the trade outside of a statement Friday night saying Hellickson was a “solid, dependable veteran major league starter.”

Hellickson, a onetime AL Rookie of the Year with the Tampa Bay Rays who many of the Orioles’ batters are familiar with, has a 4.73 ERA this year and will be an addition to a rotation that entered Saturday with a 5.98 ERA. Whether he’ll take someone’s place or be inserted into a six-man rotation wasn’t something Showalter was prepared to disclose before Saturday’s game.

“I'm not going to [commit] until Jeremy gets here and we see how the trading deadline and everything works out,” Showalter said. “It makes no sense to talk about it and try to project this. … I've got an idea of which way we're going to go, but if there's some whiplash issue or something he feels, I just don't want to get ahead of ourselves and start moving a lot of other people around and not knowing what Dan and the organization are going to do between now and Monday and have to flip it again. I'm trying not to create a lot of discord within the pitchers.”

While the trade for Hellickson was met with some skepticism outside the organization, those inside the clubhouse feel the move, even if it's temporary, aligns with the players’ idea that they still have a shot to make a playoff run this season.

Showalter liked that outlook, though he stressed that plenty could happen before Monday and didn’t indicate he knew whether it would be adding to the team or subtracting from it to maximize the value of some of their top players on the trade market.

“I think regardless of what happens with player acquisition or whatever, that should always be the case,” Showalter said. “But I appreciate the fact that they feel that way. That's another positive that could come out of it. We'll see what the next couple of days bring. … From my standpoint, we're all trying to compete and win. I'm sure so is Dan. I know our owner is.”

Veterans Chris Davis and Chris Tillman echoed that, and said the addition of a sturdy arm like Hellickson's will be a welcome one.

"It's encouraging when you see a move like that, to know that we're not throwing in the towel," Davis said. "I don't think anybody expects us to do that, but to know that we're still committed to this year, I think is encouraging."

Said Tillman: "I've seen him pitch quite a bit. A pretty good pitcher. The last I remember was when he was with the Rays, and I feel like every time he went out, he ate up innings and did his job. I like it. ... Any team could use someone like that. He's good. He's been good for a long time, and I think not just us, but anybody. We're fortunate to have him, and I look forward to having him."

Tillman said he hadn't thought much about how Hellickson would fit into the rotation, with everyone but Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy approaching August struggling.

But despite the rotation woes, Tillman said there's still belief among the Orioles players that this season isn't beyond them.

"As far as the clubhouse goes, we don't feel like we're out of it,” he said. “We feel like we've been in this position before, and we've gotten it before. That's the way the guys in the clubhouse feel. I don't know how everyone else feels.”

Davis agreed, citing how quickly things can change in a playoff race.

"I don't remember what the exact lead was that Boston lost in 2011, but there's history that shows you that you can come back," Davis said. "We still have two months left. I think it's too easy to sit back and say, 'Oh, we'll start planning for next year.' But for me, there's too much baseball left to be played."

Outside of the clubhouse, those expectations for a playoff spot aren't as strong. FanGraphs' playoff odds for the Orioles were 2.8 percent going into Saturday’s game, fourth lowest in the American League. On Baseball Prospectus, those odds were 1.7 percent.

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