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Tampa Bay Rays Game 48: Chris Archer’s Mastery Wasted

By Robbie Knopf

Felix Hernandez is one of the top two or three pitchers in baseball, and Chris Archer matched him inning after inning. Archer’s numbers were incredible–he went 8 innings allowing no runs on 2 hits, striking out 12 while walking none. However, it wasn’t just the results, but also the way he achieved them. His fastball command was spot on and his slider had its usual dynamic break, but also he mixed in 14 changeups among his 95 pitches, especially against Kyle Seager, who had given the Rays so much trouble. Archer had never looked better.

Felix Hernandez lowered his ERA to 1.91 as he tossed a complete-game shutout of the Rays, allowing 4 hits, 1 walk, and 1 hit batsman while striking out 8. He faced just 29 batters, two over the minimum with the help of four double plays turned behind him. His groundout to flyout ratio was 10-1 as the Rays were rarely able to hit the ball with any authority against him and made up for it with double play groundballs whenever they did. However, Archer, who lowered his ERA to 2.12, was just as good yet departed after eight innings and 95 pitches.

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Why was Archer taken out? Kevin Cash mentioned that lefties were coming up for the Seattle Mariners in the ninth, but the real reasons were likely more overarching. Brad Boxberger allowed the go-ahead home run on Tuesday night, but Cash wanted to send him back out there and build momentum entering the off-day. For Archer, meanwhile, 95 pitches is not a lot, but the Rays have to be careful–almost paranoid–about their starters’ health. If Archer were to get injured, that would be it for their season. Better to hand the ball off to a qualified reliever than to risk Archer’s health in any way.

Of course, it didn’t work out. Boxberger struck out the first two batters he saw before allowing two walks and a long three-run home run into the tank filled with Devil Rays in right-center. The reason was simple: his changeup had nothing. He threw it seven times, just once for a strike, as he could not command it like usual. He replaced it with his high-70’s breaking ball, which yielded better results, but once he had disposed off the righty-hitting Mike Zunino and Austin Jackson, he went back to the changeup against the lefty hitters. The results were obviously disastrous.

The Tampa Bay Rays have fallen back to .500 with five consecutive losses. Their bullpen has collapsed, as have their bats aside from the one rally on Tuesday. However, it is times like this where Rays fans need to maintain level heads. Boxberger and Jake McGee are excellent relievers who are struggling. They are good enough to straighten themselves out. The offense, meanwhile, is about to get Steven Souza Jr. and Asdrubal Cabrera back, and the standard for scoring runs is quite low given their pitching. They don’t need to be prolific offensively–they just need to score enough. They are capable of doing that.

The Rays will be off on Thursday before beginning a 10-game road trip on Friday in Baltimore.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Nick Franklin Feeling the Pressure