Nothing definite has been announced yet, but Rays manager Joe Maddon echoed the idea of at least one more rehab start. When asked if Hellickson was ready to return to the Rays' rotation, Maddon replied: "Not yet. I mean, that's what I'm hearing, he's not quite ready yet."
The follow-up question was whether Hellickson would make a fourth rehab start, to which Maddon answered: "Likely that he will." Hellickson, who is in the home stretch from January right elbow surgery, made his third rehab start Tuesday for Triple-A Durham at Louisville (Reds) and allowed seven runs on 12 hits in 2 2/3 innings.
"I think my fastball location's not bad," Hellickson said. "Changeup's not where I want it right now. Just not really executing much of anything right now. The main thing is I felt good after all three of [his rehab starts]."
Hellickson said he wasn't reading anything more into his performance.
"I know everybody else is," Hellickson said. "For me, it's just get my work in and just come out feeling good the next day. Obviously it's nice to execute and pitch well and not do what I've done. But at the same time, I feel fine and that's really all that matters to me right now."
Maddon did not seem too concerned about Hellickson's results, either.
"Obviously he did get hit around a little bit," Maddon said. "That's primarily what I heard. I just wanted to know at what level he threw velocity-wise, indicating the strength of his arm, it sounds like it's there.
"Obviously he's not pitched in a while coming off surgery, so I'm not really that bent out of shape about performance yet. That's still forthcoming. So it sounds like his arm is well. When he's able to throw 92 [mph], that's probably top end for him, normally. So that means his arm is feeling strong again."
While Hellickson is feeling well, he knows he needs a little tweaking.
"The velo's fine," Hellickson said. "The velo's there, but there's not that extra life at the end. And then the changeup's not very good right now, either. That's pretty much what I rely on, fastball location and changeup.
"I guess the positive to it is my curveball feels really good. And I am throwing my fastball where I want. It's just kind of tired right now. But no pain."
Maddon noted that the decision for when Hellickson will return to the rotation would be a group one, but he said he would have to hear a combination of things for him to give his thumbs-up.
"The big thing there is his ability to throw his pitches where he wants to," Maddon said. "I think overall command hasn't been that great. The velocity's been there. I talked to him the other day when he was here and he did not feel like he knew where the ball was going all the time. And I think that's just the residue of not having pitched in a bit.
"But health-wise he's starting to feel pretty good. This is one of those moments where you have to truly be patient when a guy is coming back from surgery like this. As long as he's feeling well and we're starting to see progress in regard to arm strength."
Hellickson had his own idea about what he needs to do to be ready to again face Major League hitters.
"I need to get through four or five innings," he said. "Other than that, I don't know. Execute better than I have the last two games. Just start getting people out."
Hellickson is close, so Maddon allowed there is no reason to rush the right-hander at this point.
"Just make sure that everything is well," Maddon said. "I think the next step is that he knows exactly where his pitches are going because that's what he's all about. He needs to know command-wise where the ball is going. And I don't think he's quite there yet."
If Hellickson makes his next rehab start as expected -- rather than returning to the Rays -- he will start on Sunday, which is the same day Erik Bedard is scheduled to pitch for the Rays. The Rays have not tipped their hand as to who will be moved out of the rotation once Hellickson returns.