State of the Rays: Chris Archer’s target? Perfection

The curiosity surrounding Chris Archer rises with each start because of his unseen assets. No question, he has physical tools. At 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, the 24-year-old Tampa Bay Rays right-hander has the strength and talent to become a long-term presence within a starting rotation.
But no discussion about Archer is complete without mention of the invisible traits, the markers that hint at a prolonged major league career. The confidence. The bravado. The bite found with trust in his head as well as his arm.
“This kid is a different cat,” manager Joe Maddon said.
“He’s kind of a unique case,” right-hander Alex Cobb said.
“So much of it has to do with how he is personally in his own mind,” left-hander Matt Moore said.
Archer has made two starts this season, after he was promoted June 1 from Triple-A Durham for his latest major league cameo in two years. His most recent outings serve as the yin and yang of his reality as someone growing within the game, someone who has shown flashes but also room to mature, someone who has both teased his fans and tamed hitters.
June 1 against the Cleveland Indians: five runs, seven hits, three walks and four strikeouts in four innings in a loss.
Last Friday against the Baltimore Orioles: one run, two hits, two walks and two strikeouts in seven innings in a win.
“It was one of those special nights that you’re trying to tap into every game,” Archer said last Friday, when he improved to 2-4 with a 4.69 ERA in six major league starts. “I was able to tap into it from pitch one.”
The performance was a welcomed development for the Rays, who were forced to scramble after right-hander Jake Odorizzi underwhelmed in two May starts. (He gave up nine runs and 13 hits in nine innings in no-decisions against the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins.)
After the Rays’ bevy of moves to stabilize a taxed bullpen, Archer appears to have found a short-term home in the rotation. For now, with left-hander David Price expected to be out until late June or early July with a strained left triceps, the chance presented to Archer is an intriguing one for him and his team. There are possible benefits for both.
For the Rays, this is another opportunity for Maddon and executive vice president Andrew Friedman to chart Archer’s progress. The pitcher has had a mixed season in Durham this year, posting a 5-3 record with a 3.96 ERA in 50 innings. Prior to his call-up, Odorizzi — currently with a 5-1 record and a 3.90 ERA in Durham – was considered the more stable option.
For Archer, this is another chance to learn the nuances of a major league stage. There are lessons to be gained in the negative (his start against Cleveland) as well as the positive (his start against Baltimore). Case in point: Archer said he has worked with Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey to “run out of arm” with his change-up, meaning gaining full extension when he throws the pitch.
“I think there’s always room for improvement,” Archer said Friday.
“I’m a perfectionist. I strive for perfection, even though I know I’m not going to be perfect. I’m trying to throw every pitch exactly where I want it. Every pitch didn’t exactly go where I wanted it. So there’s always room for improvement.”
Archer has an opportunity to show it. After the Cleveland loss, Cobb watched his young teammate to see if he could sense fear or doubt. What Cobb witnessed impressed him: There was zero timidity, zero apprehension when Archer, sporting an old-style look with high socks, took the mound against Baltimore. He looked like he belonged.
“That’s a great sign from somebody that’s young,” Cobb said. “It’s harder than it looks. A lot of people think it’s easy to go out there and pitch every day and do what they’re capable of. But it’s not, because there are so many other outside factors that are going into it every start.”
Those factors, Cobb said, include unknowns: How long will coaches keep a pitcher, especially an unproven one, in the majors if he struggles? How long will personal momentum last?
Now, Archer has a chance to learn. He is unique, different, interesting.  
What is inside, though, is the greatest curiosity.
What’s Hot
Alex Torres has provided needed depth and stability for a bullpen that was stretched thin in recent weeks. Since being recalled from Triple-A Durham on June 1, the 25-year-old left-hander has allowed just one hit and one walk with 11 strikeouts in seven innings.
Torres has made the most of his second stint with the Rays this season, which is what Tampa Bay needed after a bullpen shuffle following right-hander Jake Odorizzi’s demotion to Triple-A Durham on May 29. Torres made two appearances last month — May 16 against the Boston Red Sox and May 18 against the Baltimore Orioles — and he allowed no hits and two walks with three strikeouts before being optioned to Durham on May 19.
What’s Not
What is wrong with Matt Moore? 
The question has become popular in the past week, and the answer remains elusive. After lifting himself as one of the majors’ best by starting 8-0, the 23-year-old left-hander has looked worse-than-average in losses to the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles in consecutive starts.
The simple answer: His command is off. Moore spoke about losing his release point after the loss to Detroit, but he said there was no similar issue following the defeat to Baltimore. Command has turned sporadic, and suddenly, Moore’s ERA has ballooned from 2.18 following a one-inning appearance against the Cleveland Indians on May 31 to 3.78.
Quotes of the week
“That might be the best rotation in the American League. (Max) Scherzer is a lot like (Anibal) Sanchez, where he can add and subtract with all of his pitches. He’s got a lot more confidence in the changeup, and his other pitches have gotten much better over the last couple years.”
— Manager Joe Maddon, after the Detroit Tigers’ 5-2 victory over the Rays last Thursday at Comerica Park. Tampa Bay was outscored 15-6 in the series, which the Tigers won by taking two of three games.
“It was huge, getting out of that with a zero. … I can’t even blow an eight-run lead. It was nice to get out of that fifth.”
— Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, after the Rays’ 8-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles last Saturday. Hellickson, prone to give up large leads this season, worked his way out of a jam with runners on first and second bases with no outs in the fifth inning to preserve the shutout.
“I’m thinking about moving my dad down here, because I seem to hit really well when he’s in attendance.”
— Left fielder Sam Fuld, after his 360-foot two-run home run to right in the eighth during the Orioles’ 10-7 victory Sunday at Tropicana Field. It was his first home run since May 27, 2011, against the Cleveland Indians.
Numbers game
2: Consecutive starts by right-hander Jeremy Hellickson without allowing a walk (11 innings pitched, nine strikeouts), after shutting out the Baltimore Orioles in six innings Saturday during the Rays’ 8-0 victory at Tropicana Field. Before the streak, he allowed at least one walk in his first 11 starts. He won consecutive starts for the first time since July 24 and 29, 2012.
0: Amount of hits produced, in 12 at-bats, by Baltimore’s Chris Davis against Tampa Bay in the most recent series at Tropicana Field. He entered hitting .357 with 20 home runs and 52 RBI, and he went 7 for 11 with three home runs and 11 RBI in his season-opening visit to St. Petersburg, Fla., from April 2-4.
6: Doubles allowed by left-hander Matt Moore, all in the first 2 1/3 innings, during a 10-7 loss to the Orioles on Sunday at Tropicana Field. The amount tied a club record. Moore, who suffered a second consecutive loss, also allowed a career-high 12 hits and matched a career high by allowing eight earned runs.
Tweet of the week

A little optimism is never a bad thing. 
Catcher Nick Ciuffo, taken 21st overall in the MLB draft Thursday, has high hopes for himself as he begins a long road to the majors. His pedigree is noteworthy: As a senior at Lexington (S.C.) High School, he hit .468 with five home runs, 33 RBI and a .562 on-base percentage. He was named the 2013 South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, and he also gained recognition as a 2013 Rawlings Preseason All-American and a 2012 Under Armour All-American.
But sharing numbers with David Price? That is a tricky feat, even for the most talented player.

A path through the minors can be long, hard and taxing for even the most strong-minded. Each prospect learns the lesson in time, once the excitement of draft day gives way to the reality of a hard-knocks life in the minors. 
They call it a process for a reason. The system shapes each player, no matter his background, in some way.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at