This is not flattering at all, but Archer has a great pitchface. Apparently he puffs his cheeks out every time. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Chris Archer may not be an animated, horny, alcoholic superspy, but you know, he still has some things going for him. He doesn't get shot at on a daily basis, none of his office-mates are possible genetic clones of Adolph Hitler, his mother doesn't live a double life on "Arrested Development" -- by and large, things are going pretty well for him. And his most recent accomplishment arguably trumps all of them: in his major league debut, he went toe-to-toe with Stephen Strasburg and arguably out-pitched him.
Okay, well, that's partially true. If you're looking at the box score, Archer's night doesn't look more impressive than Strasburg's -- he lasted one fewer inning, struck out three fewer hitters, and got the loss. But while watching the game, I couldn't help but be impressed with Archer's performance. He allowed only four baserunners on the night, retiring 16 of 17 hitters after the first inning, and he threw a mere 82 pitches through six innings. Maddon could have easily left him out for longer, but chose to pinch hit for him and protect his arm instead.
While Strasburg was falling behind in many counts and having to work from behind, Archer was jumping ahead on hitters and was showing remarkable poise on the mound for someone A) in their first major league start and B) that has had issues with remaining calm and focused on the mound. He used his breaking balls -- a slider (which looks exactly like a curveball, just faster and sharper), a slower slider (curveball?), and a changeup -- in any count and mixed them well, and his pitch location was fantastic. He was, as they say, straight nasty.
And that's where Sean Rodriguez comes into play.
In the first inning, Archer started off the game by getting into a bit of trouble. He allowed a lead-off double to Steve Lombardozzi, and then Bryce Harper promptly singled him home and then advanced to second on the throw. On the very next play, Archer got Ryan Zimmerman to ground sharply to shortstop; Elliot Johnson fielded the ball and turned to throw to third, where he was set to nab the ever-cocky Harper, but Sean "Cyril" Rodriguez missed Elliot's throw and the ball trickled into the Washington dugout. Both runners advanced, scoring the second run of the inning and putting Zimmerman in a position where he'd eventually come around to score.
Those were the only runs the Nationals got all evening, and although the Rays tried to come back -- and they squandered a couple opportunities against Strasburg -- they could only muster two runs. If Rodriguez has caught that call, the game would at least have been tied and gone into extras. Instead, they fell to 38-30 and sit three game back in the division. It was frustrating for sure, but at the same time, it was encouraging to see that Archer was able to calm down after that first inning and proceed to dominate. Glass half empty, right?
- So I'm not the only one that's beginning to seriously question if Sean Rodriguez will ever begin to turn it around...right? I understand that he has a better prospect pedigree than Elliot Johnson and his upside is arguably higher, but at some point, we may have to admit that the Sean Rodriguez from the minors isn't returning. I'm not sure what that point is, but I'm definitely beginning to wonder.
- Chris Archer grounded out to short during his first at bat, but he hustled like crazy down the line and made the play really close. It's cute and all -- Archer won't get tagged with the lazy tag anytime soon -- but just don't pull a leg muscle doing it.
- Speaking of hustle, late in the game, Elliot Johnson turned a single into a double by running hard out of the box and challenging the Nats to make the play. I thought there was no way in heck he'd make it, but the throw was way off and Johnson's hustle was rewarded. Too bad the Rays couldn't then do anything with that...
- Jose Molina his his fourth home run of the season tonight, and he crushed the pitch into deep left-center. It's days like these that remind you how much of an effect air temperature has on batted ball distance. Warm weather really does juice things up.
- The Rays actually had a number of quality at bats against Strasburg, which was a small positive I took away from the game. Even though they didn't get many hits off him, they worked the count well, ran up his pitch count quickly, and hit the ball hard. Most notable in this regard: B.J. Upton, who had a number of good at bats tonight and finished with a hit and a walk.
- Joel Peralta entered the game in the eighth inning and got two easy outs. Nothing notable happened, which was almost a disappointment after all the barbs being flung back and forth since last night. The Washington fans did boo Peralta, but eh, what do you expect?