Rays Spring Game 19: Chris Archer, Bullpen Implode

By Robbie Knopf

The Tampa Bay Rays are going to need dominant pitching to have a chance in the American League East this season. With that in mind, contests like the one they played against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday will need to be few and few between. Chris Archer and several Rays relievers struggled as the Pirates won the game 7-6.

Archer looked good for the most part, going 4.2 innings allowing 2 unearned runs on 3 hits, striking out 4 while walking 4. Of course, he was working on things and we will drive ourselves crazy reading too much into his numbers. If we do so for only a second, though, we would talk about his three straight two-out walks in the fourth inning to the Murderer’s Row of Francisco Cervelli, Sean Rodriguez, and Brent Morel.

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Chris Archer is an extremely talented pitcher, and his progress with his changeup this spring should only make us more optimistic about his future. However, even as he has walked a reasonable 3.1 batters per 9 innings the last two years, the occasional bout of wildness has ruined too many of his outings. Making such losses of focus into much rarer occurrences will be critical if Archer is going to take the next step as a major league starting pitcher.

Behind Archer, Jordan Norberto allowed 2 runs while Grant Balfour, Kevin Jepsen, and Brad Boxberger allowed a run each. Jepsen entered the eighth inning with the Rays holding a 6-5 lead, but he allowed them to tie it before Boxberger let them go ahead. It was the first spring outing for Balfour and Ernesto Frieri did toss a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. Here’s your reminder that it’s not yet time to panic about the Rays bullpen.

On the offensive side, James Loney went 1 for 2 with a walk and 2 RBI, David DeJesus went 1 for 2 with a triple, a walk, an RBI, and 2 runs scored, and Logan Forsythe went 1 for 2 with a double, a walk, and 2 runs scored. Kevin Kiermaier, meanwhile, went o for 2 but walked after laying off a pair of tough breaking balls from A.J. Burnett. He subsequently stole a base and scored.

DeJesus and Forsythe are two of the most important Rays to watch right now. The Rays are trying to make DeJesus attractive to potential suitors, and Forsythe’s role with the team could be bigger than expected with Nick Franklin out to begin the year (more on that in a few minutes).

The loss takes the Rays to 9-9-1 this spring. They will be off tomorrow before taking on the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.