Chris Archer pitches in his major league debut against the Washington Nationals on June 20, 2012. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

I don’t want to give the impression that I am satisfied when the Rays lose a game, especially a game they should have won. However, if there is anything that leaves me with a big fat smile on my face regarding last night’s game, it was the pitching. More specifically, Chris Archer. I mean, forget that his first start found him with a tally in the loss column. How great was his start last night?!

I must admit, I felt some trepidation with Archer getting the start over someone like Wade Davis. Of Archer, Baseball America said things best, “Archer’s best pitch is a sharp slider that he throws in the 78-81 mph range on two planes. His fastball sits in the 90-92 mph range but has a tendency to be a bit flat.” To me, it was a question whether the Rays went with someone who’s never seen big league action, or with someone that pitched fairly well out of the pen?

I knew that Archer has had location problems in the past. There’s never really been any concern over the stuff he throws. Rather, most of the concerns came from where he threw those pitches. Archer’s always had the ability to throw strikes.  But his career strike out to walk ratio (K/BB) of just under two to one was a bit worrisome. What’s more, his career walk per nine innings (BB/9) ratio is fairly high, at 5.2. It wasn’t whether he’d get knocked all over the place by the Nats, a team who has even greater production woes than the Rays. No, my concerns were whether he’d get himself into trouble with a flat, mislocated fastball…trouble that the Rays offense couldn’t dig themselves out of against Stephen Strasburg.

To an extent, those concerns came to fruition. Strasburg and Co effectively nullified any scoring opportunities beyond the two runs they gave up. In the end though, Archer and company, arguably, out pitched the Nats pitchers. Just compare Archer and Strasburg’s lines to put things into perspective.

Archer: 6 IP/3 H/3 R/1 ER/1 BB/7 K/

Strasburg: 7 IP/5 H/2 R/2 ER/2 BB/10 K

The first inning presented the biggest challenge for young the right-handed pitcher. Archer gave up three runs (one earned) and threw 31 pitches, including a wild pitch. I’d argue that two of those runs had more to do with on the folks behind him. Consider that Upton had Lombardozzi dead to rites, had Molina held on to the ball in front of the plate. Also, the sloppy fielding by Sean Rod (though Johnson was credited with a throwing error) allowed the second run to score. Archer inevitably calmed down and allowed only one other batter to safely reach base on a third inning walk. That walk was immediately negated on a double play in the very next at bat. Archer, Badenhop, and Peralta retired 17 hitters in a row following that walk.

In a scouting report by Baseball America, Archer noted that, “Everything works off my fastball. If my fastball is good, hard and low, then I can throw my slider down there too and the slider might break out of the zone and they’ll swing over top of it and ground out. Same thing with my changeup — it works right off of it as well,.” and “I like to use it (two ways): for strikes, and I can throw it off of a good fastball and get them to swing at it and miss.” It being his slider. And Archer did just that last night. He relied heavily on his four seam fastball, slider, and curveball to great effect, striking out seven, and inducing four ground outs and four pop outs.

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Tonight poses another set of challenges for the Rays. Matt Moore (4-5, 4.16 ERA) takes the mound against a very good Gio Gonzalez (8-3, 2.52 ERA). Averaging just over six innings and 99 pitches per start, Gonzalez has given up only 22 runs on 48 hits including one home run that came a month ago against Pittsburgh. What’s more, in 2012 opposing batters have posted a measly .173 BA/.258 OBP/.248 SLG/.506 OPS against Gonzalez. Gio hasn’t given up more than three runs in any of his starts this season, though he hasn’t been as sharp this month. Gonzalez has gone 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA in three starts after opening the year 7-1 with a 2.04 ERA. We all know how great Moore has been of late. Expect another low scoring affair tonight.

Rays Starting Lineup 6/21/12:

Jennings LF
Pena 1B
Upton CF
Zobrist 2B
Matsui RF
Rodriguez SS
Lobaton C
Sutton 3B
Moore LHP

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