The irony was downright incredible as Chris Archer took the mound for the Tampa Bay Rays against the Boston Red Sox’ Justin Masterson. Masterson is a two-pitch pitcher, only fastball and slider, and always has been. Archer, on the other hand, has always been almost exclusively fastball-slider himself, but people have always wanted him to make his changeup a bigger part of his arsenal. Archer did throw the changeup against the Red Sox in the game, resorting to it as early as the second inning, but the results could not have been worse.
Archer finished with 10 strikeouts against 1 walk in 6 innings of work. He allowed a two-run home run to David Ortiz and a Pablo Sandoval sac fly after a double by Xander Bogaerts and a wild pitch. His fastball was excellent on the whole while his slider was effective aside from the hanger he threw to Ortiz. All of that makes sense–Archer is a very good pitcher, but he isn’t perfect. He will make the occasional mistake, and the Red Sox were able to take advantage.
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However, the matter of his changeup in this game is dumbfounding. Archer so rarely needs the pitch. His fastball and slider are enough to retire hitters as many times as he wants over the course of the game, and it is only worthwhile for him to throw the pitch occasionally in the third and fourth trips through the order. It is always nice for pitchers to have variety, but there are so few times where Archer’s changeup is better than his fastball or slider, even if hitters know that one pitch or the other is coming. At least while he throws in the mid-90’s with his fastball and touches 90 MPH with his slider, it makes no sense for Archer to throw his changeup more often than a handful of times late in his starts.
In this game, however, Archer hanged a 1-1 changeup to Sandoval, who drilled it for a solo home run off the left field foul pole. He missed his spot once again on his first pitch to Alejandro De Aza, and suddenly it was 2-0 Red Sox. Why did Rene Rivera call for those two pitches and why didn’t Archer shake him off? That is the mystery that may have cost the Rays this game.
Of course, it is not as though the Rays were getting much against Masterson. They scored only an unearned run against him on an Asdrubal Cabrera RBI single in the fifth inning following a passed ball. Masterson was throwing only his fastball and his slider, but whenever the Rays were thinking that one was coming, he threw the other. The slider had excellent horizontal movement, and he did a nice job locating the fastball most of the game. Even so, the Rays have to be hitting themselves for not getting much against a pitcher who entered the game with a 6.37 ERA.
The Rays added two more runs in the the seventh inning on a Cabrera RBI double off Jonathan Aro and a Grady Sizemore RBI single against Junichi Tazawa. Sizemore had a huge Rays debut, going 3 for 5 with a double off Koji Uehara and that RBI. The other hit was a little pop fly single, but he certainly looked better than expected in his first Rays game. Cabrera also went 3 for 5 as he moved up to the leadoff spot while Brandon Guyer went 2 for 4 with 2 runs scored. Together the trio combined for 8 of the Rays’ 10 hits, all 3 RBI, and all 3 runs scored. The Rays needed more offense than that given Archer’s struggles.
If losing the game wasn’t frustrating enough, the Tampa Bay Rays ended dropping two of three to the last-place Red Sox. They will hope to rebound tomorrow at 7:10 PM as they start a four-game set with the Cleveland Indians. Nate Karns will take on Cody Anderson in the opener.