NYY@TB: McGee turns in 1 1/3 strong relief innings

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon delivered his initial stump speech after Friday's game, so consider the campaign to get left-handed reliever Jake McGee on the American League All-Star team officially underway.

Maddon called McGee the Rays' "one true All-Star" on Friday night after he struck out three batters on 15 pitches in a perfect seventh inning against the Mariners, bouncing back from a rare misstep the night before with another characteristically dominant performance.

McGee, 27, has been all but untouchable this season, even if his middle-relief role might not draw the attention that comes along with being a closer or a starting pitcher. He entered Sunday with a 1.63 ERA, 16 hits and only six walks allowed in 27 2/3 innings. He's struck out 32 batters this year, or a little more than 31 percent of the hitters he's faced.

There is some precedent for McGee to make the Midsummer Classic despite not pitching the ninth inning. Last season, four middle relievers -- Jesse Crain, Mark Melancon, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil -- were named All-Stars. Count Maddon among those who believe that a player's ability is more important than which inning he usually pitches.

"I would like to believe so. I know he's a 'non-closer,' but he's got 'closer' kind of stuff," Maddon said. "If you're looking for a lefty that gets out both righties and lefties in the latter part of a game that you're trying to win, so you can get home-field advantage for the World Series, I think he's a pretty good choice. Not only that, but all of his numbers bear out the fact that he deserves that opportunity."

McGee was honored by Maddon's endorsement and obviously intrigued by the possibility of making his first All-Star team.

"It's pretty cool to hear that. I didn't know he said that, but it's always good to hear that kind of stuff, that you're good enough to be on the All-Star team," McGee said. "That's always a good thing when you hear that."

McGee's rough outing Thursday snapped a streak of 21 consecutive batters retired. At one point, he put together 15 straight scoreless appearances, and 26 of his 29 outings this year have been scoreless. He's allowed one inherited runner to score. His average fastball velocity this season is 96.7 mph, according to PITCHf/x data, the highest among all lefty relievers in the AL.

According to Fangraphs, McGee ranks ninth among relief pitchers in WAR, with a 1.0 figure that would also make him Tampa Bay's fourth most valuable pitcher overall and the club's seventh-most valuable player, period. With every team needing at least one representative and most Rays struggling to match their usual production, McGee would seem to be a logical selection.

"I think every player's goal is to make the All-Star team and be in the same locker room as all those guys who make the All-Star team. Especially when it's going to be [Derek] Jeter's last year and stuff, it'd be cool to be there for that, too," said McGee.

Hellickson, Hanigan, Guyer on the mend

Hellickson on rehab progress, timetable for return

ST. PETERSBURG -- The news is good on several injured Rays.

For starters, there's Jeremy Hellickson, who made his first rehab start pitching for Class A Advanced Charlotte on Saturday night. The right-hander held the Tampa Yankees scoreless for three innings.

"I got my work in, threw everything, came out good," Hellickson said. "Felt good today, too.

"It's taken some time to get to where I'm at. But I'm very happy with how things are going and how I'm feeling."

Hellickson, coming back from offseason right elbow surgery, is scheduled to throw a bullpen Monday.

The Rays will "probably tell me tomorrow after my bullpen," said Hellickson when asked about his rehab schedule. "See how that goes. I think I'll only have two more [rehab starts]. But I don't know where they'll be. I'll know more after the bullpen."

Ryan Hanigan (right hamstring tightness) caught Hellickson during Saturday night's game.

"Good to just get back out there, get a chance to sweat," Hanigan said. "Get a chance to work. Get back in baseball shape. I felt pretty good. Saw some pitches. Keep at it for the next couple of days, and I'll be ready to roll."

Hanigan is eligible to return to the team on Tuesday and said he sees no reason he can't be activated that day.

"As long as the team's on board, I feel pretty good, if I don't have any setbacks, any problems, leg feels good," Hanigan said. "I would imagine that will happen, yeah."

Outfielder Brandon Guyer (left thumb fracture) will have his cast removed on Monday by hand specialist Dr. Douglas Carlan. X-rays will be taken at that time.

"If it's healed, I don't have to put it back in a cast," Guyer said. "Then I can begin my rehab. It's feeling good."