Three weeks before the beginning of the 2015 season, the Tampa Bay Rays announced that Alex Cobb would be their starting pitcher in the season opener against the Baltimore Orioles. Cobb would have become the first pitcher since 2007 not named David Price or James Shields to get the Opening Day nod, but after leaving a Spring Training game with elbow tightness, the Rays were forced to alter their game plan.
On April 26, the Rays announced that Chris Archer was their plan B. However, Archer, entering his third full season in the big leagues, wasn't' exactly excited about the situation.
Archer was "bummed" with the default selection, knowing that the absence of Cobb was going to negatively affect the team. However, Archer was optimistic knowing that the Rays would be without their ace for only a few weeks. Things have obviously changed as Cobb will miss the rest of the season.
Archer, meanwhile, has been tasked with not only becoming the Opening Day alternate, but he has been forced to become the anchor of the rotation that the Rays so desperately need.
In nine starts this season, Archer has been everything the Rays have needed him to be as his pitching is a big reason why, with a quarter of the season in the books, the Rays stand alone atop the American League East with a 23-19 record. Archer boasts a 2.56 FIP (seventh best in baseball) and his 62 strikeouts are good for second most in the American League.
In tonight's game against the Oakland Athletics, the Rays send Archer to the mound to face off against former Rays' Opening Day starter Scott Kazmir as they look to keep, and potentially extend, their lead in the American League East.
The #Athletics lineup for tonight at Tampa Bay pic.twitter.com/MCUpBaxOqx— Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) May 22, 2015
His 62 K's rank 2nd in the AL. @ChrisArcher42 sets his sights on the @athletics, on @SunSportsRays, @620WDAE, @MLBTV. pic.twitter.com/9C4BGnnnQi— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 22, 2015
The Book on Scott Kazmir
In 2015, Scott Kazmir's arsenal has consisted of five different pitches. The 31-year-old southpaw has thrown a fastball in the low 90s (thrown 55.8% of the time), a changeup in the mid-to-upper 70s providing about 14 mph of separation (20.3%), a cutter in the mid-80s (15.9%), and a slider in the low 80s (6.9%). Kazmir can also throw a curveball, but has done so only eight times this season. Despite his low velocities, Kazmir's fastballs and changeups have generated an above average percentage of swings and misses (21.68% and 40.70% respectively).
Kazmir pitches to the lower half of the zone against right-handed hitters, mixing his pitches inside and outside. When facing left-handed batters, Kazmir has favored low and away.
His ability to locate his pitches and change speeds has contributed to a high groundball rate. Of balls put in play, over 40% of his fastballs and changeups and over 60% of his cutters and sliders result in ground balls.
The resilient, first-place #Rays. pic.twitter.com/e8zRwHXKkC— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 22, 2015
#Rays wearing #TBLightning T-shirts for BP today, modeled here by Tim Beckham pic.twitter.com/w1kfvpzWhw— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) May 22, 2015