MINNEAPOLIS — Chris Archer is new to this role as key contributor in a major-league playoff chase, so Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said he would keep a close eye on the right-hander down the stretch.
That is why Archer found himself in the clubhouse watching the rest of the Rays’ 3-0 win Friday night against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field despite breezing through six innings.
It certainly wasn’t because of what the Twins were doing against Archer.
“He pretty much had his way,” Maddon said.
Archer allowed three hits and struck out seven in six innings and enabled the Rays to win back-to-back games for only the second time this month.
It was a good night for the Rays in terms of the wild-card standings. New York lost in Boston and fell two games behind the Rays for the second spot. Also, the Rays picked up a game on Texas for the first wild-card spot after the Rangers lost to Oakland.
Maddon said he was watching to out-of-town scores on the right field wall and was aware that Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia led the Red Sox past the Yankees with a grand slam.
“Nice going,” Maddon said.
Archer snapped a two-game losing streak and earned his ninth win of the season with his longest outing of the month after pitching a combined 7 2/3 innings and allowing eight runs in his last two starts.
Archer said he worked on a few things earlier in the week with pitching coach Jim Hickey, basically that location is better than stuff.
“Yet again Hickey gives me a little time to figure it out on my own, and when I don’t he gives me a small tidbit of advice and I had one of my better games of the year,” Archer said.
It also helped that Archer threw the best changeup of the season, which would make it the best changeup of his career.
“I’ve had games where it’s been decent, but (Friday) it’s the best it’s been in my career, and (catcher) Jose (Molina) noticed that in the bullpen,” Archer said. “We talked about it and he said we’re going to use it. They always put a lot of lefties against me and I think the difference was me having something a little slower to show them instead of a heard fastball and a hard slider.”
Archer was in trouble once, and that was in the fifth inning when he allowed a one-out single to Trevor Plouffe and hit Darin Mastroianni with a pitch. But Archer struck out Clete Thomas and Eduardo Escobar to end the inning.
Maddon let Archer go one more inning, and Archer responded with a perfect sixth. He threw 87 pitches on the night.
“You want to keep him within range,” Maddon said. “Now if you have an unrested bullpen you might want to extend him a little further than that. That was for me, when you’re talking about development and trying to stretch out the utility of a pitcher, you don’t want to push him too far based on his experience level, so I thought it was a perfect night for him.”
Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney each worked an inning to finish off the game. And how’s this for a Friday the 13th note? Each reliever threw exactly 13 pitches.
Rodney pitched a perfect ninth his 35th save of the season.
Archer has pitched a career-high 166 innings when you factor in his 50 with Triple-A Durham during the first two months of the season.
While Archer was with the Rays last September, he was not a member of the rotation, so he wasn’t carrying the pressure of a pennant race with him to the mound every five days. That’s something Maddon wants to ensure doesn’t become too much for the young pitcher to handle. Toward that end, Maddon liked what he say Friday from Archer.
“There were no warning signs,” Maddon said. “He didn’t come out of his delivery. The fastball command was there. And he didn’t have that worried look about him. … The biggest concern is he’s never pitched this much into the season, whether it’s number of innings or with the magnitude of the game. So I really want to eye him up, because our intent is to play well into October, and I want to make sure he’s really well.”
Archer said he feels mentally and physically ready to handle the situation.
“I think so, but again, none of it is in my hand,” he said. “The only thing I can control is each pitch. I feel good mentally and physically even when I threw three and two-thirds and gave up six runs, even when I went out there last game and didn’t have my best performance. I still felt physically and mentally there. But I have an understanding of the big picture, so maybe saving a couple of extra innings just in case we do make that magical playoff run.”
The Rays talked after Thursday’s 4-3 win against the Red Sox that it was the momentum-changer they need to start to lock down a post-season spot. But that would only ring true if they followed it up with a win.
The offense did enough against Twins starter Kevin Correia to string a pair of wins together.
Wil Myers, whose eighth-inning double Thursday scored Evan Longoria with the winning run, was given a double when his line drive to right field went in and out of the glove of a twisting, turning Thomas. Desmond Jennings followed with a single and the Rays had the 1-0 lead.
It became 2-0 in the third inning when Yunel Escobar led off with a double and scored on a one-out single by James Loney.
The Rays added another run in the seventh inning and could have had more had they not run themselves out of a big inning.
Back-to-back doubles by Molina and Escobar to start the inning made it a 3-0 game.
David DeJesus singled, and Escobar was held at third base.
Ben Zobrist squared to bunt and lined the ball toward first baseman Chris Parmelee, who was charging down the line. Parmelee caught the ball and easily doubled Escobar off third base.
Maddon doesn’t normally call for the bunt, but he did in that spot. The play broke down because Zobrist bunted the ball in the air, and Escobar didn’t recognize that in time to return to the bag.
The scoring opportunity went away when DeJesus was picked off first base for the final out of the inning.
Twins reliever Caleb Thielbar, who entered after DeJesus’s hit, got all three outs on just three pitches.
“We failed to execute also,” Maddon said. “Shot ourselves in the foot, right there.”