We continue to wait for the Evan Longoria of old to return in earnest, but seeing flashes from him is becoming increasingly frequent game after game. On Wednesday, Longoria made his presence felt, but when Chris Archer had his second straight rough outing, it did not even matter.
From May 16th to August 24th, Chris Archer tossed 112 innings across 18 starts and put up a 2.25 ERA. That is certainly ace-caliber performance, and it inspired hope that Archer was on the cusp of becoming the next great Rays pitcher. The last two starts, however, have been a step in the wrong direction, and while they don’t discount Archer’s work beforehand, he has to prove that he can rediscover his top form. Fresh off allowing 8 runs, 7 earned, in 4 innings on August 29th, Archer was only marginally better in this game, allowing 6 runs on 10 hits in 6 innings, striking out just 2 while walking 1.
The reality for any pitcher is that sometimes you won’t have your best stuff for not just one start, but even two, and that was certainly the case in this game. Archer’s slider may have been at its low point for this season as it generated just one whiff out of the 16 times it was thrown and was gradually fazed out as the game progressed because of its ineffectiveness. As a result, Archer became very fastball-dependent, throwing it for a crazy 82 out of his 102 pitches. The pitch was fine, but it was predictable that Archer would have trouble as the game progressed (as he did in allowing three runs in the fifth inning) because even one great pitch is not enough against big league hitters who see you multiple times.
However, the real issue to discuss is not Archer’s poor performance with his slider and subsequently his fastball, but why he threw his changuep just four times all game. Why didn’t Archer and Jose Molina work in the offering more once they realized that his slider was not going to cut it? The good news for Chris Archer is that his fastball and slider alone are so often enough to dominate hitters. When they are not, though, he has to have the confidence to use his changeup to help make up the difference.
On the positive side from this game, we have Evan Longoria. After starting out the game 0 for 2, Longoria drilled an RBI single in the sixth inning to put the Rays on the board before his two-run homer in the eighth brought them within 7-4. When the Rays were being overpowered by Marcus Stroman, Longoria made something happen to inspire some hope, and his homer turned a laugher into a ballgame where the Rays had a chance. In what has been a down year for Longoria, this last month is a chance for him to prove to everyone that he will be just fine for him moving forward. A few more games like this will go a long way towards establishing that.
Other notable players for the Rays included Ben Zobrist, Brandon Guyer, Jeff Beliveau, and Grant Balfour. Zobrist went 2 for 4 with a walk and a run scored while Guyer went 2 for 2 after entering as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. Among the pitchers, meanwhile, Beliveau tossed a scoreless eighth before Grant Balfour struck out two amid a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Beliveau may lack the pure stuff of other Rays relievers, but it has been hard to argue with his results this season on the whole. Balfour, on the other hand, has now allowed just 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 6 across his last 4.2 innings pitched. Balfour may be the player on this team with the most to prove after how his year has gone, but all hope is not lost yet.