ST. PETERSBURG -- Only eight games into the season, the Rays’ pitching injuries continue to pile up.
Making his first start of the season on Saturday afternoon at Tropicana Field, right-hander Chris Archer exited the Rays’ 4-0 win over the Yankees in the third inning due to right lateral forearm tightness. The Rays placed Archer on the 10-day injured list immediately after the game, but he said the injury doesn’t appear to be anything too serious.
It was no less frustrating for Archer, however. Especially in his first start for the Rays since July 27, 2018, and even more so after he missed all of last season following surgery to address neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome.
“I finally felt like I was competing,” Archer said. “I really felt like I was in my element here at home. I had a lot of friends and family, so I wanted to be out there as long as I could. But fortunate that we got ahead of something serious happening. If I need to miss a few days or miss a start, then it is what it is. We'll be happy in the long run.”
With Archer sidelined, the Rays recalled right-hander Brent Honeywell Jr. from their alternate site. Once one of the top prospects in baseball, Honeywell will make his Major League debut on Sunday as Tampa Bay’s opener, pitching in front of veteran Michael Wacha. Honeywell, who returned to the mound in Spring Training after four arm surgeries and 3 1/2 years away from competitive game action, last pitched in an official game on Sept. 19, 2017.
Archer said the issue “popped up out of nowhere,” possibly due to the intensity with which he was pitching. Tampa Bay will receive more information on Archer’s status after he’s evaluated further on Sunday, but the club is optimistic based primarily on where the injury flared up -- the outside of his forearm, not near the ligaments typically associated with significant elbow injuries.
“It doesn't seem like it'll be too, too long,” Archer said. “I probably do need to rest for a couple of days and then reassess and kind of see where we're at.”
After allowing a one-out hit to DJ LeMahieu, Archer met on the mound with catcher Francisco Mejía. Manager Kevin Cash and head athletic trainer Joe Benge came out to talk with Archer, who then left the game alongside Benge.
“I don't even think he was totally sure of whether he should come out or not,” Cash said. “But this early in the season, how important he is, we're going to be very cautious with how we're going to go about those situations and felt it was best to get him out right then.”
Archer said he felt some discomfort while facing Jay Bruce and LeMahieu in the third inning, when he was noticeably bending and flexing his throwing arm. The right-hander was working with diminished fastball velocity throughout his 42-pitch outing, however. Archer’s fastball averaged 94.1 mph during the 2019 season. On Saturday, the pitch topped out at 92.8 mph and clocked in at an average of 91.4 mph.
He was still effective enough on Saturday, striking out four batters with his slider while allowing three hits and no walks in 2 1/3 innings. Reliever Andrew Kittredge replaced Archer on the mound, beginning a lights-out performance by Tampa Bay’s bullpen.
“I thought it was just something that kind of comes and goes, because you know, things come and go as you start. But it lingered, and I found myself altering how I was throwing a little and it just wasn't worth it,” Archer said. “Fortunately, it's nothing serious. But there's definitely some tightness in there that I need to get out. So I'm glad that we took the precautions that we did, and I'm really glad the bullpen stepped up.”
In the past 16 days, the Rays have been hammered by injuries to some of their most important pitchers. This particular run of bad breaks began on March 26, when they placed high-leverage reliever Nick Anderson on the 60-day injured list due to a partially torn ligament in his right elbow.
Since then, Tampa Bay has lost relievers Pete Fairbanks (strained right rotator cuff) and Chaz Roe (strained right shoulder) to injuries and placed lefty Ryan Sherriff on the restricted list. And the Rays already had four pitchers on the 60-day IL with long-term injuries to begin the season: Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche, Yonny Chirinos and Oliver Drake.
Honeywell is replacing Archer on the Rays’ roster and certainly has the ability to carve out a role on their staff. Tampa Bay has more Major League-ready rotation depth available at its alternate training site, too.
Left-hander Josh Fleming pitched well as a starter/bulk-innings option last season and had an excellent Spring Training. Right-hander Trevor Richards is capable of working multiple innings as a starter or reliever, and he was also among the Rays’ final cuts in camp. Tampa Bay may not yet be ready to call upon top prospects Luis Patiño and Shane McClanahan, but both are expected to pitch important innings for the club at some point this year.