This was the start Chris Archer needed.
No, his fastball didn't always go exactly where he wanted it to. No, his slider didn't always break the same amount. There were wasted pitches. But you can waste some pitches when you're ahead in the count. Sometimes you even get to call them "purpose pitches."
The first story to Archer's game was fastball command and working ahead in the count. But there was another story, and that was Archer's changeup. Archer threw 95 pitches, and a full 20 of them were changeups (47 fastballs, 26 sliders). I haven't checked yet, but I think that's the highest percentage of changeups he's ever thrown.
The Orioles were clearly amped up and trying to jump his usual fastball/cutter combo, and they had no answer for the many changeups Archer threw them. They swung at 14, missed six of those, and took two others for called strikes. It was an odd changeup that Archer had today, ranging from 84 mph to 91 mph, and sometimes having serious split action while other times staying relatively straight.
This wasn't the sharpest Chris Archer performance we've ever seen, but oh man was the stuff good when it was good. And for Rays fans who were starting to wonder about their ace, it was really nice to see.
Six and two thirds innings pitched, no runs, five hits, no walks, and ten strikeouts.
Squeezing In A Pair
Archer's opponent, former #4 pick Kevin Gausman, also had his A stuff tonight. His fastball touched 99 mph, and he mixed in the splitter and slider well, keeping Rays hitters off balance when he needed to and overpowering them with his heat when he didn't. Longoria especially had a rough night, waving ineffectually at slider after slider beneath the zone.
The Rays finally broke through, however, in the bottom of the fifth inning, with what may have been a little bit of help from Paul Nauert behind home plate, who applied the squeeze to Gausman. Steven Souza Jr. worked a full-count walk, where the final pitch was a slider that really looked like it caught the bottom outside corner. The bottom of the zone had been closed all day, but still, the Orioles have a gripe.
The bottom of the zone went against the Orioles again two batters later when Gausman placed a 2-2 fastball right at the knees of Curt Casali. That gave Casali another pitch, and he made the most of it, lining it into left field. With a full count and two outs, Souza was running on the pitch, and he turned on the jets to scoot home just in front of the throw, giving an emphatic safe call as he put the Rays up 1-0.
The Orioles will think themselves hard done by, and they may have been, but the bottom of the zone wasn't open for the Rays much tonight, either. And Matt Wieters hasn't graded as a good pitch framer for a couple years now. This is a game that's not going to help those numbers for him, and it's also a good illustration of just how much framing can matter.
Brian Matusz replaced Gausman in the bottom of the sixth inning, and immediately faced Corey Dickerson. Matusz is a tough pitcher against lefties. He threw Dickerson six unhittable pitches, all right around the bottom outside corner. But Dickerson, knowing there was nothing for him to hit, took all of them, and four were judged to be just off the corner rather than just on it.
Matusz got the next two batters, but Souza lined the first pitch he saw just past the glove of a leaping J.J. Hardy, Matusz also issued a walk to lefty Kevin Kiermaier. That loaded the bases, and Buck Showalter opted for a righty, Vance Worley, to face Casali. Worley did not get it done, coming in and hitting Casali with a fastball up and in on the jersey to score the second run.
Kevin Cash should also get some credit for what was a well-managed game.
Pedro Alvarez, who's a slugger with extreme platoon splits, seemed to be seeing Archer well all game and had hit him hard in his previous two at bats. When he came up with two outs and a runner on first in the seventh inning, Cash didn't tempt fate. He made him face Enny Romero, a power lefty. Romero got him to pop out on the second pitch.
Cash then went to Erasmo Ramirez for the eighth inning, and Erasmo was sharp, getting a strikeout and two weak groundouts from the top of the Orioles lineup. Erasmo came back out for the start of the ninth inning, also working over Adam Jones and earning a weak grounder, before Cash switched him for lefty-specialist Xavier Cedeno to face Chris Davis. Cedeno only got to face the one batter before ceding the mound to Alex Colome, who got Mark Trumbo to fly out and end the game.
Bullpen management is easy when your starter pitches into the seventh and your best relievers are available, but the Orioles are a dangerous lineup, and over the last few innings Cash managed to put basically every batter in a matchup they were unlikely to win.
Some other notes:
- Against his old team, in his first at bat, Steve Pearce tried to attack an inside fastball and hit about the biggest pop fly you'll ever see. Strong man. Hope he catches more of those solid.
- In the second inning, Brad Miller had a really good at bat. He worked it to 2-2, and fouled off a number of pitches. The eighth pitch was a curve that swept too far inside, and Miller took it. The ninth pitch was that same curve but brought over the back door and into the zone, and he made hard contact flying it the other way into the alley for a double. More at bats like that, please.
- Souza checked his swing on an inside fastball, but had the ball go off his bat and ricochet straight at Kevin Kiermaier in the on deck circle, sending him to the ground. Surprised you don't see that more.
- Batting with one out in the ninth inning, Chris Davis literally threw his bat at an Xavier Cedeno breaking ball, making contact and blooping it into short center field. Kevin Kiermaier charged and made a sliding grab, which is very fortunate. That would have been just way too ridiculous of a hit to give up.
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