Behind a few timely hits and an impressive start from Chris Archer the Rays got back on the winning track Thursday night against the Astros.
Archer's 6.2 innings of shutout baseball lowered his ERA to 3.14, easily the best of anyone in the rotation. He's allowed two or fewer earned runs in six of his past seven starts. If you exclude his previous start in Houston when he had a one inning meltdown, he's allowed three earned runs over his last 37.2 innings. Not bad at all.
His slider was especially effective tonight as a putaway pitch, using it to rack up four of his eight strikeouts. He his slider just 20 times but induced seven whiffs, four of which ended at bats. His fastball wasn't too shabby either, topping out at 98mph and picking up the other four strikeouts with it. The Astros hit nothing hard off Archer and picked up just three singles. His only bit of trouble came in the fourth inning after a leadoff infield hit and a stolen base from Jose Altuve. Archer was able to deftly maneuver around it by getting the next three batters in order, never letting Altuve advance to third.
Grant Balfour pitched a perfect ninth inning, striking out the side on 13 pitches. It was just his second clean outing in his past six appearances. But, hey, progress.
The offense, which was shutout last night and carried an 0-16 streak with runners in scoring position into the fourth inning, finally got on the board with a single by Yunel Escobar. Ryan Hanigan followed that up with a perfect squeeze play to bring in their second run. Kevin Kiermaier, who had just missed a home run in his previous at bat, blasted a two-run homer in the eighth inning, his fourth of the year. Evan Longoria followed him with a mammoth shot to left field. Not counting his 1-4 effort tonight, Longoria is hitting .281/.370/.500 in June after a dismal May.
David Price takes the mound tomorrow looking to continue his recent dominance of the Astros and overtake Felix Hernandez for the MLB strikeout lead.