State of the Rays: Starting pitching key to recent run

BY foxsports • July 29, 2013

Reasons for the Tampa Bay Rays' sprint toward the top of the American League East vary. Like all rallies, there are a variety of causes for the upswing, but most of the credit can be found in starting pitching that has become among the most consistent in the majors.   
Four of every five days, the Rays enter with a legitimate reason to feel their starter can do the job. Only Roberto Hernandez, a right-hander who is 5-11 with a 4.92 ERA in 19 starts, appears to be a weak link. Even right-hander Chris Archer, who lost three of his first four starts in June, has risen to be a solid presence as Tampa Bay's momentum has carried into the second half.
Archer's shutout of the New York Yankees on Saturday was another example of how dangerous this rotation has become. He threw a marvelous 97-pitch complete game, holding the Yankees hitless through 4 1/3 innings. The young pitcher has grown from someone who was inconsistent with his location early after his promotion from Triple-A Durham into a talent that has proven he belongs as a major league starter.
At only 24 years old, Archer's potential appears high: Since a June 23 victory over the Yankees, he has won his last five decisions. In that time, he has gone at least six innings in six of seven starts. Compare that longevity with some of his early innings totals -- four in a loss to the Cleveland Indians on June 1, four in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on June 12 and 4 2/3 in a loss to the Red Sox on June 18 -- and Archer has shown healthy growth.  
Archer, himself, has credited his rise to David Price's re-entry into the rotation, and it would be unwise to discredit the effect the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner's return has had. Starters have talked about how Price provides an emotional lift, a sense of stability that was missing when he was absent because of a strained left triceps that landed him on the disabled list for the first time in his career.
Consider the turnaround: Since returning July 2 against the Houston Astros, Price is 4-1 with three complete games. Entering Monday's start against the Red Sox, he had a 1.76 ERA for the month, and in his lone loss (against the Astros on July 12), he threw 87 pitches in nine innings, an effort that would have produced a victory on most nights.
Price's return, of course, complements Matt Moore's steady season. The left-hander was a worthy All-Star participant, and he will have more chances to show his value in the final months (he's 14-3 with a 3.41 ERA). He was stellar in throwing a two-hit complete game in a victory over the Red Sox last Monday, but in a no-decision against the Yankees on Sunday, the Rays lost for the first time in a game he started since falling to the Kansas City Royals on June 14.
Outside of Moore, right-hander Jeremy Hellickson can make a strong argument for Tampa Bay's most consistent arm since June. He is 8-1 in 10 starts in the span, including a 3-0 record with a 2.63 ERA in four July appearances. His improved stability should encourage manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.
All this reveals that the Rays are in healthy shape as they move forward in the second half. Price has said he is pitching better than last year, Hellickson has recovered from spotty April and May starts, Moore has been their most trusted option all season and Archer has made clear gains.
The return of right-hander Alex Cobb, out since June 16 with a mild concussion, likely will happen within the month. At that time, the Rays must decide what to do with Archer and Hernandez. But these "problems" are positive ones to have.
Such is life at 62-43.

Wil Myers has hit an impressive .429 (9 for 21) in five games since last Tuesday. In that span, he has three home runs with eight RBI and only two strikeouts.
Myers had his first multi-homerun game on Sunday, when he hit shots of 421 and 356 feet off right-hander Phil Hughes. Where would the Rays be without him? It is a fair question to consider, because he has hit .328 with seven home runs and 26 RBI (plus an on-base percentage of .354) since his call-up from Triple-A Durham. His presence has provided an obvious spark.

With each start by Roberto Hernandez, it appears the Rays will have a decision to make when Alex Cobb returns from his rehab. Hernandez is the clear weak link within a starting rotation that ranks sixth in the AL with a 3.78 ERA.
Meanwhile, Hernandez has continued to flounder, including losing his latest start last Tuesday at Fenway Park. As young right-hander Chris Archer has ascended, it is at least fair to wonder if Hernandez could receive a different role once Cobb returns.

"Last year, I feel like I had complete control of two pitches. Right now, honestly, I feel like I have four pitches I can throw at any time."-- David Price on his command, after he threw a complete game in the Rays' 5-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday at Fenway Park. Entering Monday, he is 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in five July starts.
"Going into the ninth inning, I was fully confident that we weren't going to have to go to the bullpen because this is the best I've ever felt, this month, in my life."-- Chris Archer, after he threw a 97-pitch complete-game shutout in a 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees last Saturday at Yankee Stadium. He has won in his last four starts, improving his record to 6-3 with a 2.39 ERA in 11 appearances this season.
"Deja vu all over again. I was hoping to get up there and see us on top of that (standings) board. We're not, just keep plugging away."-- Joe Maddon, after the Rays' 6-5 loss to the Yankees on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. The loss knocked Tampa Bay from first place in the AL East before returning to Fenway Park for one game against the Red Sox to close a 10-game road trip.

4: Pitchers who have thrown nine-inning complete games in fewer than 100 pitches at Fenway Park in the last 25 years. Price became the latest to do so when he tossed 97 pitches, 72 for strikes, in a 5-1 victory over the Red Sox last Wednesday.
0: Rays pitchers who threw two shutouts in a single month, before Archer achieved the feat by beating the Yankees 1-0 on Saturday. He also shut out the Astros on July 14.
7-2: Rays' record to start the second half, with all games played on the road against AL East opponents. Their only losses in the stretch came against Boston last Tuesday and New York on Sunday.


Archer has settled nicely since losing three of his first four decisions in June. Saturday's start in a victory over the Yankees was his most impressive outing to date.
Archer's July has been nothing short of tremendous. He is 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA in five starts. The Rays have won all five of his appearances, as well as his last seven dating back to June 23.
What more can he do? Continue to progress. He has shown he belongs in the majors with this latest stint. If he continues on his current arc, he must search for more words to describe what it means for him to be a fixture at the game's highest level.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.


share story