Taking the mound in the Majors for the first time since April 10, Archer pitched two scoreless innings. He struck out four, gave up one hit and walked one batter. He threw 41 pitches, including 24 strikes, and he managed to be effective despite his diminished fastball velocity.
Archer's four-seam fastball velocity ranged from 89.6 to 93.8 mph, averaging 91.6 mph. That’s in line with the velocity he displayed in two outings at the start of this season but a noticeable dropoff from his 94.1 mph average in 2019.
Archer said afterward he wasn't comfortable airing out his fastball, despite the way he pitched overall.
“I didn't feel confident stepping on my heater, and I think it was noticeable there in the second inning,” he said. “My offspeed stuff felt unbelievable across the board. For some reason, whenever I tried to really put my foot down, the hip just didn't feel quite as stable as it did when I was warming up or even in the first inning.”
After Archer returned to the dugout following his second inning, Rays manager Kevin Cash had a brief conversation with home-plate umpire Rob Drake and called Tampa Bay’s bullpen to have right-hander Shawn Armstrong begin warming up. Armstrong replaced Archer to begin the third inning.
During his Minor League rehab assignment, which began on July 12 and ended Tuesday, Archer was briefly set back by a bout of left hip soreness. That ailment caused him to exit his Aug. 1 start after one inning, and he did not pitch again until a three-inning intrasquad game on Aug. 12.
Archer said the issue he felt then was “way more intense,” and the pain didn’t subside as quickly as it did Sunday afternoon. That led him to believe that, with a pair of extra off-days next week, he could plug himself back into the rotation the next time his turn comes around.
Tampa Bay likely won’t need Archer to pitch for more than a week, as it has plenty of other bulk-innings options on its roster. Drew Rasmussen will start Tuesday in Philadelphia, and Ryan Yarbrough will either start or pitch after an opener on Wednesday. The Rays are off Thursday, then they’re lined up to start Shane McClanahan, Michael Wacha and Luis Patiño next weekend in Baltimore. Plus, left-hander Josh Fleming -- who completed a three-inning save Sunday -- was just bumped from the rotation to the bullpen.
“Something's in there that's not right, that's not allowing [Archer] to be himself and probably holding back a little bit rather than cutting it loose,” Cash said.
The Rays reinstated Archer from the 60-day injured list on Sunday morning after he missed the club’s previous 116 games while on the IL. He initially went on the IL and missed a significant amount of time due to right lateral forearm tightness, and his return was further delayed as he went home to be with family following the death of his mother. But his performance during his rehab assignment was encouraging, Archer said he felt "maybe a little bit freer, more athletic" physically, and the Rays believed he was ready to help their rotation starting Sunday afternoon.
It was an admittedly emotional day for Archer, pitching in his “favorite” Rays jersey while wearing a necklace holding a ring from his late mother. He said he was amped up by the energy in the dugout and throughout Tropicana Field, and he was encouraged by the way he pitched despite the soreness in his hip.
“It’s a bummer. It's frustrating because I feel great, and then I have a little minor thing pop up,” Archer said. “Just trying to be smart.”
Additionally, the Rays lost first baseman Ji-Man Choi during Sunday’s series finale due to left hamstring tightness. Choi has battled hamstring issues lately, and Cash said Choi “felt it grab him” while legging out a double in the first inning. It continued to tighten up as he came around to score, then he was lifted in favor of Yandy Díaz.
“He was pretty quick to say, like, 'That's it,’” Cash said. “Felt like it would roll up on him if he stayed out there.”
Those injuries came only a few hours after the Rays placed veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz on the COVID-19-related IL for unspecified reasons. Cash said Cruz, who was initially in the starting lineup, “woke up not feeling good” on Sunday but hadn’t received any test results.