ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are only three teams left in the majors that Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer hasn’t faced, and he gets a crack at one of them Saturday with the Philadelphia Phillies making a rare stop at Tropicana Field.
The Phillies (7-5) hadn’t played at the Trop since 2009 before Friday night’s 2-1 victory on a run in the ninth inning, giving them six wins in seven games.
Archer watches a lot of video as part of his regular game prep, but even more so against an unfamiliar opponent like this. He also watched Friday to see how the Phillies would line up with a designated hitter against a right-hander in Rays starter Jake Faria.
“I’ve already watched tons of video on this team already,” said Archer, who said he evaluated tape of the Phillies against Atlanta’s Mike Foltynewicz and the New York Mets‘ Noah Syndergaard, just as two National League pitchers with similar pitching styles.
While Archer has never pitched against the Phillies, his counterpart, Philadelphia’s Jake Arrieta, hasn’t faced the Rays (3-10) in more than five years, picking up his final win with Baltimore in his last outing against Tampa Bay in April 2013.
So while Arrieta is seemingly mortal against Tampa Bay in his career — 3-3 with a 5.35 ERA, with only four opponents drawing a higher ERA than the Rays — that’s really before Arrieta developed into the top pitcher he became with the Chicago Cubs.
Arrieta has a 4.50 ERA after making his season debut Sunday, so this is only his second outing with his new team. Archer is 1-0 with a 5.94 ERA, getting his lone win in Monday’s game against the White Sox.
The Phillies have won six of seven games, and strong starting pitching has been a big part of it — first-year manager Gabe Kapler talked about the rivalry among his starters to push each other to be better, a standard set high by Arrieta.
“It’s very different, but you saw what (Curt) Schilling and (Pedro) Martinez did with the Red Sox,” Kapler said after Friday’s win, citing strong starts from Jake Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. “When one guy comes out and has a good start, the other guy wants to come out and match it, or do it a little better. As long as there is respect with it amongst our starts, it’s nice to see them competing in games and trying to match the last guy’s performance.”
The bullpen remains a major problem for the Rays — they already have seven losses by relievers, most in the majors, and closer Alex Colome got his second Friday, giving up a run in the ninth.
That puts more pressure on starters to come through with quality starts, and Archer is easily the Rays’ most reliable option as they battle through injuries that have pressed “bullpen days” into regular occurrence.
Philadelphia has no such problem — their starters had a 2.87 ERA in eight starts before Vince Velasquez’s gem Friday night, allowing only one run in 6 2/3 innings. The rotation has allowed two runs or fewer eight times in nine starts, and four hits or fewer in six of those starts.