ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays’ staff ace went 9-19 last season and the Blue Jays’ No. 5 starter went 15-2. Uneven scheduling in the first week of the season will have Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer and Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez squaring off Saturday at Tropicana Field.
Both have been exceptional against the team they’ll face on Saturday.
Archer (1-0) gets his second start of the season with the confidence of knowing that he has given up two earned runs or fewer in five straight starts against Toronto and in 10 of his last 11 starts against the Jays. He’ll carry over the momentum of an Opening Day win, going seven innings and holding the New York Yankees to two runs.
Sanchez, only 24, makes his season debut after a sparkling 2016 season in which he carried a 3.00 ERA and was even tougher against the Rays. He’s 1-1 for his career with a 1.27 ERA against Tampa Bay. Last season, he went 1-0 with a 0.64 ERA, allowing one earned run in 14 innings, striking out 14 and walking only two.
Solid pitching would be welcome after a Friday night game that saw the Rays and Jays combine for 12 pitchers, 18 runs, 21 hits and 12 walks. It took a full three hours and 53 minutes, taxing both bullpens in the middle of a four-game series.
“The game was long. It’s a good thing we’re still close to spring training, because those games seem really long there,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “That’s a very good offense, they take a ton of pitches, a very selective group. You kind of buckle up for some lengthier ballgames with their offense.”
Toronto used enough pitchers — five relievers had to combine for 7 2/3 innings after starter Francisco Liriano got only one out — that manager John Gibbons said they’ll have to make a transaction before Saturday’s game to get another fresh arm in the bullpen.
“We’re going to need to do something, no doubt,” Gibbons said. “I thought we did some good things.”
Archer could use a strong start at Tropicana Field — last year, he went 3-10 at home despite leading the AL with a 2.65 ERA at home, getting the lowest home run support in the majors at just 2.12 runs per nine innings. With a win Saturday, he’ll have two home wins in the first week of the season.
The Rays had plenty of run support on Friday, piling up 13 hits and 10 runs to offset a rough night on the mound.
“I think it’s good for our starting pitchers and it’s good for our bullpen to know that we can come back,” said outfielder Steven Souza, whose two-run double in the sixth gave the Rays the lead back for good. “Being able to come through and be resilient is pretty good.”