The Blue Jays took an early lead after Archer coaxed a the first out of the game on Kevin Pillar’s grounder to short. Nevertheless Josh Donaldson slapped a defensive hack, opposite field single to right before Jose Bautista worked a free pass on seven pitches. The visibly shaken Archer uncorked a 2-2 wild pitch which allowed both base runners to advance 90 feet. And while questions surrounded Edwin Encarnacion’s timing since the designated hitter missed a large chunk of Spring Training, you’d never have known it Sunday afternoon. Encarnacion singled to right-center, scoring both runners for a two-run advantage. After another walk, and subsequently a visit by pitching coach Jim Hickey, the Rays ace settled down.
Over the next 4-1/3 innings, Archer appeared to be locked in. Although Toronto tacked another run onto the board following a fielding error by Logan Morrison on Michael Saunders’ grounder, and a pair of back-to-back singles by Ryan Goins and Pillar, the Rays ace collected himself and fanned 12 total batters (seven swinging). In fact, the only other Rays to put out a Blue Jay while number 22 was on the mound were Morrison, who snared a liner off the bat of Russell Martin, and Miller, who fielded a pair of grounders.
In the end the, a lapse in fastball command ― he threw just 29 of 60 fastballs for strikes (48.3%) ― did Archer in. His slider looked filthy and he was able to induce 13 whiffs. The line on Archer’s day: 5 IP/5 H/3 R/2 ER/3 BB/12 K on 107 pitches (66 strikes)
Archer spoke about his outing after the game:
Tampa Bay got on the board in the third after Hank Conger led off the inning with a single. Yet Logan Forsythe wiped out the lead runner after grounding into a fielder’s choice to third. Morrison was able to move Forsythe to second on a weak squibber to the mound, then Evan Longoria plated a run on a single to the right-center gap. Prior to and after that, however, Marcus Stroman looked like the second coming of Cy Young.
The 24 year-old righty was efficient, needing just 92 pitches (11-1/2 pitches per inning) over the first eight frames. Stroman got seven first-pitch outs, with 13 of his 24 total outs coming via weak grounders on the infield. Stroman is, by all accounts, a ground ball pitcher, and I’ll be damned if he didn’t have the Rays eating out if his hand yesterday afternoon.
After Archer, Enny Romero kept the Rays close with an impressive 13 pitch, 1-2-3 sixth. My personal favorite at-bat came with Goins at the plate. After the southpaw went up 0-2 on Toronto’s second baseman, Romero let loose with a 99 mph fastball. Goins couldn’t resist, and went down swinging.
After a 1-2-3 seventh by Clearwater native Ryan Webb, the righty relinquished a base hit to Encarnacion to begin the eighth. Troy Tulowitzki followed with a no-doubter to left-center, putting the game out of reach.
#Rays Ryan Webb will become the first player born in Clearwater to pitch for the team.
— Steve Kinsella (@Steve_Kinsella1) April 3, 2016
Dana Eveland followed with 1-2/3 innings of perfect relief, but not before the damage was done.
Corey Dickerson helped make things interesting in the ninth when he crushed a high fastball and deposited it in the right-field stands.
Desmond Jennings followed with a base hit to center, signaling the end of Stroman’s day.
John Gibbons called upon closer Roberto Osuna, who retired the next two batters (Miller, and Steven Souza Jr.). But after Jennings swiped second on defensive indifference, The Outlaw singled home a run. A miraculous comeback was not to be, as Osuna coaxed a ground ball out of Conger to end the game and earn the save.
Aside from the ninth, the best chance for the Rays to get back into the game came in the bottom of the fourth. Conger walked with two outs and Kiermaier at second. However, Kiermaier was thrown out trying to steal third, ending the threat. Why he’d try to run on Martin with the left-handed Conger in the box is beyond me.
Following the game, Kiermaier spoke about the base running gaffe, calling it “terrible,” and “very embarrassing.”
#Rays Kiermaier on trying to steal 3B: “Terrible base running move on my part. Very embarrassing.”
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) April 3, 2016
The New What Next
On Monday, Tampa Bay will try to even up the series at one apiece with Drew Smyly on the mound. The lefty will start opposite of knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. You can read about the pitching matchup in our series preview.
Rays 4/4/16 Starting Lineup
— Strikeouts galore…the 16 strikeouts by Rays hurlers tied the modern day record for strikeouts on Opening Day (previously the 2005 Mets vs. the Reds. As it relates to Archer, only eight pitchers since 1913 have had more strikeouts on Opening Day. Of the nine others with 12 strikeouts, all had pitched at least six innings.
— With the exception of a low throw, that Morrison had to pick out of the dirt for the first out of the game, Miller did a great job at short. His foot work was good, and the subsequent throws to first were on point.
— Fun fact: The three pitchers with the lowest ERA in the America League since the 2014 trade deadline (min 15GS) are: Monday’s starter Drew Smyly (2.52), Dallas Keuchel (Smyly’s college roommate, 2.56) and David Price (traded for Smyly, 2.75).