Defense Costs Rays in 3-2 loss, Chris Archer Sparkling in Debut

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Rays Chris Archer DebutWhile all of the talk leading up to this game was almost exclusively about Joel Peralta, his pine tar laced glove, and two managers childishly firing salvos at one another, it was Chris Archer, practically a child in his own right at the ripe age of 23 and making his major league debut, showing the maturity of a seasoned veteran, firing strikeouts against a potent Nationals lineup.

Archer struck out 7 and walked only 1 over 6 innings. He allowed 3 hits and 3 runs (1 unearned), all in the 1st inning. That, in and of itself, tells a large part of the story of Chris’s debut.

After the Rays failed to score in the top of the 1st, Steve Lombardozzi led off the bottom half of the frame with a double to the gap in right center, followed by an RBI single by Bryce Harper. On Harper’s single, BJ Upton came up throwing and delivered a strong throw home which appeared to be in time to nab Lombardozzi, but Jose Molina was unable to handle it, and the aforementioned throw home allowed Harper to advance to 2nd.

The Rays defense failed them yet again on the ensuing play, as a groundball to Elliott Johnson off of Ryan Zimmerman’s bat was fielded cleanly, and Johnson’s throw to 3rd was in plenty of time to nab the lead runner. Sean Rodriguez was unable to handle the throw, and an error was charged (in my opinion, incorrectly) on Johnson, and after the ball got away from Rodriguez, Harper was awarded home plate as the ball went into the Nats dugout.

The play in and of itself was bizarre in that the Nats 3rd base coach had to quickly jump out of the way of the loose ball, which impeded Sean’s path to chase it down before rolling into the dugout, a bad break for the Rays, also allowing Zimmerman to advance to 2nd.

Archer would retire the next two batters, sandwiched around a wild pitch, before Ian Desmond hit a seeing eye single in between Rodriguez and Johnson to plate the 3rd run, before Danny Espinosa grounded out to end the inning.

Archer’s poise, however, already was evident. It’d be easy for any pitcher, let alone one making their major league debut, to become completely unraveled in such a situation, especially after shoddy defense did him in more than anything else.

From the 2nd inning on, however, Archer proceeded to face the minimum…15 batters, the only baserunner coming in the 3rd inning, a walk to Bryce Harper who was erased on a double-play. Just watching his body language, his demeanor, it was clear that Chris trusted his stuff, mixing in mid 90’s fastballs with a solid, if not nasty slider, working quickly and efficiently.

He’d throw just 82 pitches over his 6 innings of work, (32 of which came in the 1st), and possibly would have continued into the 7th had this not been an interleague game in an NL Park, with his spot in the batting order due up. Will Rhymes, who pinch-hit for Archer, would go on to strike out (note: Archer grounded out in his two plate appearances).

For the Rays offense, that was pretty much the story all night, which should not come as a shock to anyone. In fact, given some of the putrid hitting performances this season, tonight’s, against an elite pitcher in Stephen Strasburg, wasn’t so bad in comparison. Strasburg, now 9-1 on the season, allowed 6 hits to the Rays patchwork lineup, which did not include Matt Joyce, who sat out with back stiffness.

The Rays managed to scratch across a run in each the 2nd and 3rd innings, via a Jose Molina home-run and an RBI single by Hideki Matsui, respectively. It was in the 6th that Molina, who, following a two out double by Elliott Johnson, nearly tied the game with a fly to shallow left, but Steve Lombardozzi made a fantastic diving catch to preserve the Nats lead.

The Rays never really threatened after that, only sending the minimum to the plate the rest of the way, the one baserunner on a Carlos Pena single, summarily erased on an inning ending double play off the bat of Hideki Matsui.

As for the encore performance of glove-gate? Joel Peralta relieved Burke Badenhop in the 8th, no glove check requested, and easily retired the two Nats hitters he faced. Who knows what tomorrow holds in that regard, or what type of suspension awaits Peralta.

What we do know, however, is the Rays, more now than ever, rely on pitching and defense, first and foremost. We know that thus far, they have gotten only the former, not the latter, to perform up to standards set, and yet the Rays sit at a more than respectable 38-30 on this the first day of Summer, 2012, just 3 games behind the Yankees and ½ game behind the Orioles in the brutal AL East.

We don’t know with any certainty that Chris Archer’s impressive debut is an indication that he’ll go on to a successful career as a starting pitcher, but if recent Rays history is any indication, it’s a fair assumption. His maturity both before, during, and after this start belabor that point even further.

We know that our pitching staff, in large part, will at the very least keep us in most games, but we also don’t know with any certainty that the Rays will be able to return to their lofty standards on defense.

The latter, unfortunately, will cost those aforementioned great pitchers wins, and lessen the chances of a Rays run into late October. Call that a guess, call it an assumption, or whatever else you want…just hope we don’t have to find out because, damn, it sure is frustrating to watch.