ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who has been on the disabled list since the start of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow in March, is making progress, the right-hander said Wednesday.
Hellickson said he would throw a session of live batting practice on Thursday, his first since beginning his rehab. Hellickson said his improvement was "very encouraging."
Hellickson did not have any major updates on the timetable for his return -- he is expected to be out until around late June -- but did say he should be back before the All-Star break.
"I don't know how many rehab starts I'm gonna have to make; I don't even know how many live BPs I'm gonna throw," Hellickson said.
Hellickson also said that he had been throwing curveballs during his bullpen sessions and was no longer feeling pain while doing so.
"There were a few bullpens there where I thought I was going to have to pitch with that soreness for, you know, ever," Hellickson said. "And a week later, it's gone, and I'm feeling really good now."
Last season with Tampa Bay, Hellickson went 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA in 32 games (31 starts). He has averaged 30 starts over the past three seasons, a mark he will not be able to reach this year.
Kiermaier optioned to make room for Cobb
ST. PETERSBURG -- Following Wednesday night's 3-2 loss to the A's, the Rays optioned outfielder Kevin Kiermaier to Triple-A Durham. Right-hander Alex Cobb was to be reinstated from the disabled list to make his start on Thursday.
Kiermaier continues to make an impression on Rays manager Joe Maddon, particularly with his superlative defense.
"I told him right to his face, 'Listen, you're the best outfielder in the Major Leagues right now, but you're going to Triple-A,'" Maddon said. "And I felt like I could tell him that because he can handle that thought and not impact or interfere with his work.
"This guy's a Major League outfielder for many years to come," Maddon added, "and he can impact a game with his defense."
In two stints with the Rays this season, Kiermaier is hitting .250 with a home run and two RBIs.
Former reliever Wheeler to represent Rays at Draft
ST. PETERSBURG -- Dan Wheeler will represent the Rays at Major League Baseball's 2014 First-Year Player Draft, it was announced Wednesday.
The 2014 Draft will take place on June 5-7, beginning with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
Wheeler played a combined seven seasons over two different stints with Tampa Bay, both as the Devil Rays and the Rays. In 258 appearances, the right-hander went 13-25 with a 4.32 ERA. He remains the team's career leader with 250 relief appearances. Current Rays reliever Joel Peralta entered Wednesday night's action three appearances shy of Wheeler's mark.
Rays manager Joe Maddon has often cited Wheeler's contribution for helping the franchise to a winning record in 2008, its first season as the Rays. Wheeler's last season in the Major Leagues came in 2012 with the Indians. Now retired, he lives in the Tampa Bay area.
The selection order of the First-Year Player Draft is determined by the reverse order of finish at the close of the previous championship season. The Houston Astros will have the first overall selection of the 2014 Draft.
The Rays will have three selections on the first day of the Draft with the Nos. 20, 60 and 72 picks.
Guyer bonds with Kapler over fitness habits
ST. PETERSBURG -- Brandon Guyer is all about nutrition and fitness, as is former Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler.
So when the two met last season, they became fast friends.
"Instantly we felt like we clicked," Guyer said. "We were sitting in the batting cage talking about different foods. Training. How we take care of ourselves. It was fun. Any time I can come across people like that and talk to them about food, which is a passion of mine, I love it."
Guyer noted that the meeting was "cool" because he had often heard about Kapler and "how he ate and trained."
"I saw him from afar," Guyer said. "You could tell he took care of himself. He went about things the right way. So he was definitely a good guy to look up to and try to be like."
When asked about the greatest common denominator in their discussions, Guyer thought for a moment before answering, "Just trying to eat clean."
"Just eat whole foods," Guyer said. "Not look for cheats in different supplements and stuff. Try to get everything from food. I think that's the No. 1 thing that we enjoyed talking about."
Guyer and Kapler have stayed in touch since their initial meeting, which led to Kapler's asking Guyer to write a guest blog for "Kap Lifestyle," Kapler's daily blog that addresses lifestyle and fitness.
"We were in Anaheim and he wondered if I would do a guest post on his blog," Guyer said. "I said, 'Of course.' I love writing about it and talking about it. So I jumped right on it. We had an off-day on Monday, so I got on it quick and wrote a little blog about how I like to eat."
Rays not reaping benefits from better contact
ST. PETERSBURG -- Strikeouts used to be the bane of the Rays. Fans complained the team struck out way too much, that if the team could just make better contact, the offense would roll. Well, that hasn't exactly proved to be the case.
The Rays entered Wednesday night's game ranked 22nd in the Major Leagues in strikeouts with 328. That was almost 100 below the total of the White Sox, who led the Majors with 421.
Yet while striking out less, the club is grounding into more double plays. Entering Wednesday night's game, the Rays, with 44, were tied with the Red Sox for second most in the Major Leagues. That trailed the Rangers, who had grounded into the most double plays, by four.
The Rays' offense threatened twice in Tuesday night's 3-0 loss to the A's. It had the bases loaded with one out in the third inning and runners on first and third with one out in the eighth, but both times Desmond Jennings grounded into inning-ending double plays.
"The double play has not been our friend," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've hit into too many double plays. Especially with Desmond a really fast runner, you don't expect that. From 3-0 with the bases loaded to the inning over on a very close play at first base. We just have to continue to work at it."
Maddon spoke, though, of the long-term benefits of making contact.
"We were striking out too much, and now we're hitting the ball to shortstop too much," he said. "Just keep playing it. We'll start missing those guys. We'll have better luck with balls in play. Our line drives will find some turf. It's going to happen. But you have to keep firing, man. You gotta keep playing like your hair's on fire. And eventually you're going to be OK."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.