Preview: With Chris Archer on mound, Rays continue search for offense

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The Tampa Bay Rays are looking for the offense to wake up in the final two games of their current nine-game homestand to keep them in the thick of the American League wild-card race.

The Rays are 2-5 on the homestand so far and have been shut out four times, including a 5-0 loss Friday to the Cleveland Indians. The teams will play again Saturday night at Tropicana Field in the third game of their four-game set.

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Right-hander Mike Clevinger (5-4, 4.00 ERA) is the scheduled starter for Cleveland and he has to be licking his chops to face a lineup that can’t seem to hit anything right now.

To make matters worse, it’s possible Tampa Bay will be without third baseman Evan Longoria, who took a ball off his left wrist and left the game with a thumb contusion. X-rays were negative and Longoria is considered day-to-day.

“I really don’t know anything,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I’ll wait until (Saturday) if he’s a go or not. I think it’s very similar to what happened to Lucas Duda a couple of days ago.

“I looked at it, and it looked like it hit the outside, but the inside of the thumb is what really puffed up. We’ll see how he is tomorrow.”

Clevinger has struggled in his last two starts, giving up 10 earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. He was temporarily shifted to the bullpen but will return to the rotation Saturday.

Indians reliever Zach McAllister told MLB.com he expects Clevinger to return to the form that he showed before the All-Star break.

“You can definitely see how much he’s matured this year,” McAllister said. “That’s part of growing up, especially in the big leagues, too. It’s not always easy. He was on a hot streak, throwing great, and he’s hit a little rough patch.”

The Rays will send their ace, Chris Archer, to the mound. Archer is 8-6 with a 3.80 ERA and says that the team needs dominant pitching now more than ever.

“We’re striving to put up zeroes all the time,” Archer said. “The goal whenever you go out there is not to give up any runs. There’s always work to be done, but we’re keeping our team in the game, giving our bullpen a chance to keep it close. I’m happy but not satisfied.”

Pitching hasn’t been Tampa Bay’s problem in this recent slump. The Rays’ rotation has gone at least six innings in six of the seven games and given up less than three runs five times.

Archer said the recent outings by Austin Pruitt and Blake Snell will help the Rays stay in the playoff race through this rough period.

“What they’re doing is huge,” Archer said. “I’m not trying to make a direct comparison, but in the past when we’ve been successful, we’ve had young guys step up. We have to all contribute, all 25, including the 23-, 24-year-old rookie pitchers.”