When David Price went on the disabled list, the Rays knew that they were suffering a big loss, but they did not fret too much because Chris Archer would take his place. After four up-and-down starts to begin what could be his first full season in the major leagues, Archer finally showed the type of performance to justify the Rays’ trust.
The game had an inauspicious beginning for Archer as he threw just 25 pitches and was lucky to escape with only a lone run on a Robinson Cano sac fly. The first thought on every Rays fan’s mind had to be “here we go again.” But this time was different. Archer rebounded with an 8-pitch 2nd inning and took off from there, never throwing more than 15 pitches in his final 5 innings on his way to a magnificent start. Joe Maddon decided to lift him after 6 strong innings, but his final line was quite impressive as he went 6 innings allowing just 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 4 while walking 1. He did a great job keeping the ball down to force an 8-4 groundout to flyout ratio, and while he was not nearly as overpowering as we have seen him and allowed at least one baserunner in each inning, he showed vastly improved control and the resilience to escape jams.
What was the difference for Archer this time around? Before the game (well, as it was starting) we discussed how the bulk of Archer’s issues stemmed not necessarily from poor command or control but simply his changeup. Archer has always been known for his excellent fastball-slider combination, but everyone was telling him that he needed a third pitch to succeed in the major leagues, leading him to throw his changeup 16% of the time even though it was a well below-average pitch. In this game, he finally rectified that issue, throwing just 1 changeup among his 98 pitches and sticking to his bread-and-butter to keep the Yankees off-balance. Hopefully Archer will continue developing his changeup and find a way to integrate it into his arsenal just the right amount in his coming starts, but he finally recognized that he had to make a shift to his pitch usage for right now, and it worked to perfection. This game had to be a major boost to Archer’s confidence, and hopefully this is the game that gets him going.
A Ben Zobrist RBI single gave Archer a 1-0 lead in the 1st before he gave it back on the Cano sac fly, and from then on it was Archer and Ivan Nova matching each other inning for inning as the game was 1-1 after 6. The Yankees decided to send Nova back out for the 7th inning after he had allowed 1 run on 7 hits in the first 6 innings, striking out 7 while walking 2 and throwing 90 pitches in the process. It certainly seemed like the right move, and sure enough Nova retired Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce in order to begin the inning. But then Nova hit Desmond Jennings with a fastball and Ben Zobrist with an 0-2 curveball to give the Rays an unlikely rally. The Yankees went to their bullpen, but Evan Longoria threw a walk against Shawn Kelly. Then the lefty Boone Logan came in to face James Loney, and Joe Maddon ignored Loney’s historical struggles at lefties and looked more at his .354 average against them this season (in 71 plate appearances), deciding to keep him in the game. Once again, Maddon proved to be right as Loney delivered a go-ahead 2-run single to give the Rays a 3-1 lead.
Jake McGee worked around a hit in the 7th before Joel Peralta rebounded from his recent struggles with a perfect 8th. Peralta allowed 3 flyball outs, certainly not looking as sharp as usual, and the Rays have to find a way to get him some days off. Could we see players like Cesar Ramos and Jamey Wright used in long relief spots to open up Alex Torres for some later-inning work? But using Peralta worked fine this time, and Fernando Rodney followed by striking out the side in the 9th as the Rays won 3-1, finding their way to a split with the Yankees. Archer finally got on track and Loney came through when it mattered most as the Rays were able to end their tough road trip in New York and Boston on a high note. The going doesn’t get any easier after this, though, as the Rays welcome the red-hot Toronto Blue Jays, winners of 11 games in a row, to the Trop for a 3-game series. Esmil Rogers goes up against Jeremy Hellickson at 7:10 PM on Monday night.