When the Rays abundance of pitching depth has been discussed this season it's usually been Alex Cobb's name that has been thrown around. He's the one who stepped in for the injured Jeff Niemann and the rotation hasn't missed a beat. With David Price missing a start due to shoulder soreness the Rays are fortunate enough to be able to call upon 23-year-old Chris Archer.
He had made two starts earlier in the season in place of Jeremy Hellickson and pitched well to the tune of a 3.86 ERA/2.34 FIP in 11.1 innings. This time he squared off against the best offense in the league...and dominated. Aside from one mistake pitch to Josh Hamilton he was nearly untouchable. He was able to command all of his pitches and stay out of the danger zone by keeping his control in check, something he's struggled with in his minor league career. Despite leading the International League in strikeouts Archer's 4.36 BB/9 ranked 6th. He walked just two batters last night, bringing his MLB total up to four in 18.2 innings, or 1.93 per nine.
The most important part of his development will be the increased usage of his changeup. It doesn't have to be on the level of James Shields or Alex Cobb, it just needs to be decent enough so hitters can't sit on his fastball. In his previous two MLB starts he threw it six percent of the time. He bumped that number up to 11 tonight, helping his fastball get 10 swinging strikes. The changeup even managed a whiff, against Adrian Beltre of all people. He didn't throw a single changeup to a right handed batter in the first two starts, but tonight threw five and recorded outs on two. Improvement. The combination of all three pitches -- fastball, slider and changeup -- resulted in an ocelot of swinging strikes (16) and strikeouts (11). One bad pitch to Hamilton, a slider in the middle of the zone that Hamilton hit over the centerfield wall, is all that stood between Archer and a win. It was an impressive effort for someone who came into the spring as the Rays' 8th starting pitcher.
Kyle Farnsworth's night didn't go as well. After retiring the first two batters in the 10th inning he allowed a double off the centerfield wall to Geovany Soto. B.J. Upton made a good effort but just missed the ball and crashed into the wall. After watching the replays it looked like he probably should have caught it. Jurickson Profar followed that up with a double that went underneath the glove of a diving Carlos Pena. After an infield single by Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton was hit by a pitch to bring in another run.
The Rays had a chance in the bottom of the frame. A walk by Ryan Roberts brought Carlos Pena to the plate. Pena was the hero in the eighth inning, driving in the tying run after Ian Kinsler, playing in mid-right field thanks to the shift, couldn't handle a sharply hit ground ball. Take a look at the two called strikes in Pena's at bat.
The second pitch wasn't so bad, but Nathan and Soto apparently got the signs mixed up so it didn't look fluid at all. The last one was in the right hand batter's box. Victory isn't guaranteed if the correct calls were made, but that's a tough way to end a game.
James Shields is on the mound today. Hopefully the Rays can give him more run support than they did last time he faced the Rangers.