When Chris Archer struggled last Saturday in Cleveland and Alex Torres continued to dominate from the bullpen, some Tampa Bay Rays fans were rumbling that they hoped to see more Torres and less Archer filling in for David Price going forward. Those grumbles will be more difficult to hear tonight, after Archer dazzled, defeating the American League East foe, the Baltimore Orioles, and earning his first win of the year as the Rays dropped the O's 2-1.
Archer stymied the Orioles powerful lineup, limiting them to just two hits on the evening while throwing just 84 pitches (53 for strikes) over seven innings of work. He was able to command his 95-mph power fastball, spotting it where he wanted it and walking just two batters, both in the third inning. The change up was in full effect for Archer who displayed the ability to command the pitch and the confidence to throw it in any count. Perhaps more impressive was the slider, a pitch that is mostly missing from the Rays staff repertoire. Archer uncorked 21 spinners, netting 14 strikes and 4 whiffs.
The only blemish on Archers night came in the third when walks to Chris Dickerson and Nat McLouth set up a Manny Machado RBI single that bled through the middle of the infield. McLouth should have been the third out of the inning but walked after both he and home plate umpire Lance Barrett gave up on a nasty 3-2 slider that caught the corner of the plate. Barrett had a rough night behind home plate, calling a strike zone that seemed to change from batter to batter and inning to inning. The only other hit allowed by the Rays was a well struck Dickerson line drive to center field that sailed over Desmond Jennings' head after he initially broke in as the ball came off the bat.
Archer told FOX Sports reporter Kelly Nash after the game that he "stayed within himself," and that the guys "made good plays behind him." He said that pitching coach Jim Hickey urged him to throw his change up just like his fastball and that the ones he got in trouble with where ones where we slowed his mechanics down. Archer pitched with a strong rhythm all evening and kept a steady pace, which in addition to his command and location kept the Orioles hitters off balance all evening.
Jennings would later atone for his misplay. In the bottom of the seventh inning, The Rays were in the process of spoiling Archers gem by allowing their offense to be shut down again by former Ray and Orioles "ace" Jason Hammel. Hammel had scattered just four hits over six and with his pitch count in good shape, was looking for the shutout of his old team. James Loney, who recorded two more hits on the evening, singled on a 0-2 pitch to left center giving the Rays their first lead-off base-runner on the night. Jennings then wasted no time, ambushing the first pitch offering from Hammel, sending it 435 feet to deep center off the window of the center field restaurant. The Rays threatened to add on in the seventh but Ben Zobrist hit a deep fly ball to left center that Adam Jones was able to run down to end the inning with the Rays now leading 2-1.
Joel Peralta relieved Archer for the eighth inning and worked a scoreless frame before stepping aside for Fernando Rodney. Rodney looked like the 2012, bow and arrow launching, version of himself tonight as he struck out Adam Jones and all-world-slugger Chris Davis on just three pitches to end the game and give the Rays the victory.