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Archer off his game as Rays' struggles continue

Longoria knocks two-run homer, but rest of offense falls flat

SEATTLE -- Tampa Bay's three-stop West Coast road trip continued to resemble the Griswolds negotiating Walley World.

Saturday night's 6-2 loss to the Mariners cast the Rays' Sunday return to St. Petersburg as the high point of the trip, which has put the team's playoff hopes in jeopardy.

"The good news is we only have one more game on the West Coast for this particular trip," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

The Rays are 2-7 on the current 10-game road trip and 3-9 since beginning a stretch of 13 consecutive games against American League West teams.

First-place Boston increased its margin in the AL East over the Rays to 8 1/2 games while Cleveland and Baltimore both won to creep to within a game of Tampa Bay for the second AL Wild Card spot.

Chris Archer made his 19th start of the season for the Rays, moving into uncharted waters while doing so. The 24-year-old right-hander's career high for innings in a season had been in 2012 when he pitched 157 1/3 innings. He entered Saturday night's game with 156 innings under his belt in '13.

The Rays' prudent approach for bringing along young pitchers has prompted talk about conserving Archer's pitches for the remainder of the season. He has even been slotted to have an extra day's rest prior to his next start Friday night against the Twins.

Archer lasted just 3 2/3 innings Monday night while allowing five runs and taking the loss to the Angels. Saturday night, he lasted just four innings, which might lend credence to concerns about how to use him for the remainder of the season. But Maddon said that wasn't the case Saturday night.

"I didn't see it turning around," said Maddon, explaining that Archer's early hook had nothing to do with conserving innings. "That lineup was not a good lineup for him tonight. And you could see that the first couple of times through."

Kendrys Morales singled home a run in the first and homered in the third and Justin Smoak homered in the second to give the Mariners a 3-0 lead.

"I was trying to be ready for the fastball," Smoak said. "He throws hard, everything was hard, hard slider, the fastball. I was just trying to be ready to hit and he got some pitches out over the plate and I was able to make some contact."

Archer registered his only clean inning in the fourth then did not return for the fifth, which surprised Archer.

"I was [surprised]," Archer said. "But again, what I think really doesn't matter. I can control what I can control. I feel like out of the seventy-something pitches I threw, I was mindful of most of those and that's the most I can control.

"I'm sure if we weren't in such a tight pennant race, two solo home runs wouldn't have led to me coming out. But considering the situation, I have to understand we're trying to do what's best for the team."

Alex Torres took over for Archer, allowing a leadoff double to Nick Franklin, who advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, then scored on Abraham Almonte's bunt single to give the Mariners a 4-0 lead.

Given the Rays' lack of hitting lately, the four-run cushion might as well have been a hundred.

James Paxton did the honors by stifling the Rays' bats Saturday night in his Major League debut.

"The first time through, he didn't throw any off-speed," Delmon Young said. "He started mixing it in more. The third at-bat he was throwing everything.

"He really wasn't deceptive, because he's a long arm, gives you a chance to see everything. Without seeing him, without being familiar with him, he did what he was supposed to do, he got ahead in the count and then he kept working down in the zone, established a strike zone below the knees and he stayed down there the whole night."

Paxton, who was pitching with a heavy heart after learning Saturday morning that his grandfather had died, posted five scoreless frames before Evan Longoria broke the left-hander's spell with a two-run homer, his 29th of the season, in the sixth.

But the Mariners answered with two more in the sixth, while the Rays failed to score in the seventh after getting runners to second and third with no outs, which effectively put the game on ice.

Maddon allowed that the current Rays' tailspin is like any other by saying, "Oh, it's never fun."

"But again, I have full faith in our guys," Maddon said. "Fortunately, the season has several more weeks to go and there's plenty of time to right this thing and maybe get as hot as we've been cold. ... We just have not hit well on this side of the world."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
Read More: Tampa Bay Rays, Evan Longoria, Chris Archer