ST. PETERSBURG -- – Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon made three lineups before his team took the field Thursday night in the series finale with the Toronto Blue Jays.
To say the third one was the charm would be too easy. Besides, Chris Archer was the starting pitcher in all three lineups and he did more than enough to help the Rays snap their first losing streak of the season in the 7-2 victory against the Jays in front of 9,571 at Tropicana Field.
“I thought (Archer) started out really good and then hit just a little bit of a lull, and then he came on strongly towards the end,” Maddon said, “but overall, really good performance on his part. The fastball was there when he wanted it to be. The slider, again, was really good early on and then he recaptured it later in the game, so he did pitch well.”
Archer allowed two runs on four hits, walked two and struck out seven in his six innings. He improved to 2-0 with a 2.01 ERA in four starts against the Jays, and the Rays improved to 13-1 in games when Archer pitched at least six innings.
“I think, overall, our defense played a huge role as to why I went into the sixth inning,” Archer said.
And the offense.
The bats came back to life with two-out hits, hits with runners in scoring position and the team’s first home run of the young season -- a long, three-run blast to left field by Evan Longoria in the seventh inning that broke open a two-run game.
Longoria tied Carlos Peña for the franchise lead in home runs with the 163rd of his career.
“It’s a proud moment for me because this has been my home for so long, and, obviously, I’ve made a significant commitment,” Longoria said. “I made it obvious knowing that I have a love for this franchise and this community. To be able to do it, it’s just one home run in the grand scheme of things, for what it means to the organization and what they’ve meant to me is big.”
Said Maddon, “It’s great to see that, and of course he’s going to surpass (Peña). My first thought is thank you Carlos for all the work that you have done here. And then the next thing would be Longo’s got plenty of opportunities to at least double that number, I would imagine.”
The Rays offense, largely dormant against Jays pitching during the middle two games of this series, came to life against Brandon Morrow.
Matt Joyce, who’s off to a fast start this year, doubled with two out in the second inning and eventually scored the first run of the game on Ryan Hanigan’s single, his first hit as a Ray.
The Rays were 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position prior to Hanigan’s hit.
They kept the clutch hitting going in the third inning when Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist drove in runs with a hit with a runner in scoring position.
David DeJesus tripled and scored on Jennings’ double.
DeJesus was the left fielder in the first lineup, then the DH in the second after testing his bruised right foot during batting practice. He switched positions with Joyce, who went from DH to left field. Joyce then moved across the outfield to right field when Wil Myers was scratched with flu-like symptoms after batting practice.
Having signed a multi-year deal Wednesday that guarantees him $25.5 million over the next six seasons, it would not have been much of a surprise for a young pitcher like Archer to take the mound thinking he had to prove he’s worth every penny of that contract. But Maddon said before the game he didn’t think the pressure of having to live up the contract would be an issue with the 25-year-old Archer
“He’s processing all that, you know that,” Maddon said before the game. “I do believe that he might go out there very calm, because he feels as though by being able to do that he can utilize that in a lot of good ways.”
Archer said the contract never entered his mind. He was too focused trying to pitch his way through a lineup that includes Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Archer’s only blemish came in the fourth inning when a leadoff walk to Bautista started a two-run inning and trimmed the Rays lead to 4-2. Archer rebounded and retired the last five batters he faced and seven of the last eight.
“I think I have some room to grow from this game,” Archer said. “I did some things well, but overall my defense really helped me out and we put up enough runs where they were comfortable leaving me in for the sixth.”
One area Archer said he needs to improve is his control.
“I fell behind way too many times,” he said. “This is a good lineup. Fortunately, the guys made some plays behind me, and I was able to make pitches in critical times, but I can’t rely on falling behind 1-0, 2-0, leading off innings with walks. It’s not going to fly. It’s not the type of pitcher I want to be. Definitely get strike one and not being passive with my fastball. I think in the middle innings of the game I was a little more passive than I would like. In the fifth and sixth I turned it on again and started to pitch like my normal self.”
Giselle Rodriguez, wife of UTL Sean, gave birth Thursday evening to a boy, the couple’s fourth child. Rodriguez is expected to rejoin the team tonight. INF Vince Belnome, called up from Triple A Durham to replace Rodriguez on Thursday, was optioned back to Durham after the game … The Rays split the four-game series with the win and are now 19-0-2 against the Jays in home series since April 2007.