When Alex Cobb was ruled out at the start of the season, the Rays probably thought they had a problem.
Cobb was initially down to make the start on Opening Day at Tropicana Field against the Baltimore Orioles, only for him to discover he needed Tommy John surgery just before the season began.
Ace Chris Archer Aiming High
With David Price away to the Tigers and Drew Smyly and Matt Moore still on the disabled list, it meant rookie coach Kevin Cash was having to delve into his reserve pitchers in order to fill his rotation.
Highly-rated duo Nathan Karns and Erasmo Ramirez were selected, and reliever Matt Andriese was briefly promoted in order to fill the final three rotation spots, joining Jake Odorizzi and the newly-christened ace Chris Archer on the mound.
But with Cobb now facing a year and a half on the sidelines, it still left the Rays short a top quality pitcher who would turn consistent quality performances like Price did.
Up Stepped Chris Archer.
The baseball community were generally aware of Archer’s pitching presence, and years of tutelage from veteran Price finally paid off for the young right-hander, who stepped into the ace role as if he was born for it.
Any nerves he may have had were undetectable, as Archer, already a fantastic strike-out pitcher, set about humiliating experienced pitchers on teams across many divisions by fooling them with his deceptive slider.
His strike-out total currently stands at 205, the third best total in the whole of baseball, and second in the American League. Only the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and White Sox ace Chris Sale have fanned more batters than Archer.
The righty boasts an 11-9 record and a 2.77 ERA, as well as an appearance for the American League All-Star team, and Thursday night further cemented his place as one of the Majors’ best pitchers in operation.
Having already once flirted with a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on July 29. (a game he ended up losing on an infield error and three hits), Archer spun nine dominant innings against the Astros and giving up just one hit and one walk in 98 pitches.
After walking Houston lead-off man Jose Altuve to start the game, Archer didn’t allow another baserunner until Colby Rasmus singled off him to lead off the fifth.
From there the 26-year old sat down the next 15 batters he faced to wrap up a stellar start that included eleven strikeouts and meant he faced just one batter above the minimum on his way to tying the four game series 2-2.
As if a one-hit shut-out wasn’t impressive enough, it came only five days after Archer gave up seven earned runs off 11 hits away to Texas. Not bad for a bounceback performance.
“Right out of the gate I was mixing my pitches a little better [than against Texas],” Archer claimed. “I had my change-up going and that was the difference maker.”
The Rays now sit just two games off a Wildcard spot, and if Archer can keep up the kind of form that has seen him mould into a reliable ace at Tampa Bay then the Rays could be returning to the postseason.
It helps that they are getting plenty of offensive back-up now too, particularly with the return of Desmond Jennings from the 60-day DL and the resurgence of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
Jennings has gone 10-for-28 (.357) since returning on Aug 14., while Cabrera is an astonishing .407 since the All-Star break having struggled to stay above .200 before it.
Certainly if Chris Archer can keep confusing batters with his 4-seam fastball, as well as his signature slider, then the Rays will have no problem in keeping him as their ace for next year.
And he may not have thought it at the start of the season, but he could lead his team to the play-offs come October as well.
Main Photo: LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL – MARCH 14: Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch in the fourth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium on March 14, 2014 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Atlanta won the game 6-1. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)