Welcome back, Chris Archer! The Tampa Bay Rays ace returned to form on Monday with his best, and longest, outing of the season. Meanwhile Archer’s battery mate, Curt Casali, drove in both runs. That was enough for Tampa Bay, who handed the Baltimore Orioles their first shutout of the season, 2-0.
It all started with an impressive start by Archer, who, prior to Monday night, was winless in his first four starts. Archer set the tone by throwing first pitch strikes to 11-of-the-first-12 batters he faced. He also mixed his pitches well, baffling the Orioles batters by mixing in a dangerous, yet unfamiliar weapon: a filthy changeup that had split finger action.
Archer established his changeup (20 thrown, 16 strikes, 6 whiffs) early, using it to collect four of his first five strikeouts. It also made his slider (18 thrown, 15 strikes, 5 whiffs) ― which while not in top form ― that much better. In the end, however, it all began with fastball command, which the righty had in spades. Of the 47 fastballs thrown, 31 went for strikes.
The Orioles had their best chance against Archer in the third after Pedro Alvarez doubled to left to start the inning. Unfazed, Archer got Jonathan Schoop to line to second, Joey Rickard to strike out swinging and Manny Machado to bounce to third, ending the inning.
The Orioles only got a pair of runners as far as second base against Archer (both coming on Alvarez doubles). All told, he scattered five hits over 6-2/3 innings, and didn’t walk a batter while striking out 10. In nine starts with Casali behind the plate, Archer now owns a 2.30 ERA.
By the by, if there is still a concern over a presumed drop in fastball velocity, Archer averaged 95.4 mph Monday night and maxed out at 98.2 mph.
Tampa Bay broke the 0-0 deadlock in the fifth. Steven Souza Jr. walked (yes, you read that right) on a borderline 3-2 pitch with one out. After Kevin Kiermaier flew-out to center, Casali ran the count full before lashing a double to left. Off with the pitch, Souza scored all the way from first.
It looked like a breakout inning was in the making after Kevin Gausman hit Logan Forsythe and walked Steve Pearce. Yet an offensive outburst was not to be ― Evan Longoria flew out to right, ending the threat. Gausman needed 32 pitches to get through the inning.
Baltimore’s starter was pulled, in favor of Brian Matusz, in the sixth after throwing 92 pitches. The left-handed Matusz began the sixth by walking Corey Dickerson. After the southpaw retired the next two batters, Souza singled to left and Kiermaier walked to load the bases.
Vance Worley, replaced Matusz, and hit Casali with an 89 mph 1-1 fastball, forcing home Dickerson from third and giving Tampa Bay a two-run advantage. Forsythe grounded out one pitch later, but not before the damage was done.
Alvarez stepped to the plate as the tying run with two outs in the seventh, although Enny Romero ― who entered the game in relief ― got Baltimore’s DH to pop out to first.
After Romero got the last out in the seventh, Everyday Erasmo Ramirez took over in the eighth and put together a perfect 1-1/3 innings of work, coaxing a trifecta of groundouts and a strikeout (swinging) on an 81 mph, thigh-high changeup.
Xavier Cedeno took over for Ramirez and made up for his shotty outing on Saturday by inducing a ground ball out of Chris Davis for the second out of the inning. Finally Alex Colome took over and got the final out of the game, completing the shutout. For Colome, it was his fourth save of the season.
The New What Next
Chasing .500. Rays RHP Jake Odorizzi (0-1) will go against Orioles RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1) on Tuesday night. Odorizzi has a 2.56 ERA in home games since the start of the 2014 season and allowed one earned run or fewer in 19-of-32 starts over the stretch. You can read about the pitching matchup in our series preview.
Rays 4/26/16 Starting Lineup
― Why that particular mix of pitches for Archer?
#Rays Archer mixed in his changeup tonight, because the fastball/slider combo has not worked well vs. the O’s.
— Roger Mooney (@RMooneyTBO) April 26, 2016
Of his 10 strikeouts, PITCHf/x had 5 on sliders, 4 on changeups and 1 on his fastball — Roger Mooney (@RMooneyTBO) April 26, 2016
― The Process Report broke down Archer’s start. Check out what the writers had to say.
― From the pregame notes: since 2015, Archer is 10-1 when allowing 1 run or fewer and 3-16 when allowing 2 runs or more.
― Also from the pregame notes, Monday was Archer’s fifth career scoreless start with 10 or more strikeouts, surpassing Scott Kazmir for the club record.
― Casali became the third No. 9 hitter to drive in all of the runs in a win since 2008. The others are Nathan Karns on July 21, 2015 at PHI (solo HR, won 1-0) and SS Ben Zobrist on July 18, 2008 vs. TOR (2-run HR, won 2-1).