ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson had a solid but short season debut, and the Tampa Bay Rays continued their recent roll with a 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals Tuesday night.
Hellickson, making his first start since January elbow surgery, didn't last long enough to get a decision, charged with one run and six hits over 4 1/3 innings and 84 pitches. But Tampa Bay (42-51) scored twice in the sixth to take the lead for good, giving it wins in nine of its past 11 games.
The Royals (46-43) fell to 4-4 on their recent road trip, which wraps up Wednesday in the series finale.
Kansas City had shut out Tampa Bay in Monday's 6-0 win and held the Rays to just three hits in the first five innings Tuesday in front of 12,818 at Tropicana Field.
But Tampa Bay finally came alive in the sixth against Royals lefty Jason Vargas. Shortstop Ben Zobrist continued his hot streak with a leadoff single. Rookie outfielder Brandon Guyer followed by hustling for a double on a liner to left-center. And third baseman Evan Longoria knocked them both in with a two-run, opposite-field single, giving the Rays a 2-1 lead.
Vargas did not finish the inning. He was taken out with two on and two outs, having allowed two runs on six hits and two walks after 109 pitches.
The Rays added two insurance runs in the eighth on an RBI double by first baseman James Loney and a sacrifice fly by second baseman Logan Forsythe.
Left-hander Jake McGee got the final four outs for his sixth save, but not without some drama.
McGee gave up two runs in the ninth, snapping his streak of 14 straight scoreless appearances.
Hellickson, the former American League Rookie of the Year, had gone 1-4 with a 7.23 ERA in five rehab starts for Triple-A Durham after tossing three scoreless innings for Class-A Charlotte June 7.
Hellickson stranded runners in scoring position in two of the first three innings Tuesday against Kansas City, and was pulled with runners on first and third with one out in the fifth. Reliever Brad Boxberger came in and allowed an RBI groundout to catcher Salvador Perez.
Vargas was also strong in the early going, holding the Rays to three hits through five innings. The Rays' best chance came in the second, when designated hitter Sean Rodriguez hit a two-out double. But Rodriguez was stranded when catcher Ryan Hanigan struck out.
NOTES: LHP Joe Saunders agreed to a minor league deal with the Royals, and he will report to Triple-A Omaha. Saunders, 33, released by the Texas Rangers last week, has a 5.42 ERA in 40 starts since the beginning of last season. Saunders gives the Royals potential rotation depth, and he also could help the bullpen down the stretch. ... Rays manager Joe Maddon said RF Wil Myers (right wrist fracture) is still likely out until mid-August, but OF David DeJesus (left hand fracture) could be back in early August. ... Rays SS Yunel Escobar (right shoulder soreness) went 1-for-4 with a single, two groundouts and a lineout in his first minor league rehab game for Class-A Charlotte Tuesday night. He is expected to return Friday.