Jeremy Hellickson injury: Elbow surgery sidelines Rays RHP until May

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay will be without its no. 4 starter for the first month-plus of the season.

Tampa Bay Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his throwing elbow last week and will be sidelined until mid- to late-May as a result, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The 26-year-old right-hander reportedly had loose bodies -- small fragments of cartilage and/or bone -- removed from his elbow after suffering a flare up while throwing at his home in Iowa. Hellickson gave no indication of discomfort or injury when he avoided arbitration (one year, $3.65M) with the Rays last month, saying he felt "really good," but that is obviously no longer the case. He was expected to slot into the back end of the rotation this spring, but will instead spend the first 6-8 weeks on the disabled list.

Naturally, the Rays have no shortage of young, viable options to supplement Hellickson as he rehabs his elbow. Jake Odorizzi, 23, probably has the best shot of making the Opening Day rotation, but he should have some fierce competition from Enny Romero and Alex Colome in camp. The three youngsters are the top prospects in Tampa Bay's farm system, and all of them made at least a brief MLB cameo in 2013.

Hellickson struggled mightily last season, posting a career-worst 5.17 ERA in 31 starts. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year excelled in his first two big-league seasons by keeping the BABIP dragons at bay, but they finally broke through in a big way in 2013, resulting in a nearly 100-point jump in OPS (from 683 to 775). If Hellickson can get back to his magical BABIP-limiting ways when he returns to the rotation in May, he should have no problem bumping his replacement back down to the minors. If he continues to put up merely mortal BABIP numbers, however, one or more of the aforementioned prospects could eventually push him into bullpen duty.

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