Frustration necessary for Rays to get on track

Archer drops to 0-3 as rotation, offense look to bounce back from slow start

April 14th, 2016

ST. PETERSBURG -- Evan Longoria stood by his locker on Opening Day, looked around the Rays' clubhouse, and he said something about this team being better equipped to go to the postseason than maybe even the 2008 World Series juggernaut.

Earlier this week, the All-Star third baseman and team leader said this group as a whole has more confidence than the 2015 Rays. That may be the case and, yes, it's early, but Tampa Bay is struggling and showing few signs of that potential.

The Indians defeated the Rays, 6-0, at Tropicana Field on Thursday, and you have to wonder. It is certainly not the type of beginning expected from this recast team. The game wasn't as close as the score, and Cleveland took two of three in the series.

The offense is a huge concern, but the most troubling aspect is that Tampa Bay's starting pitchers haven't won a single game.

For years, the Rays have been built around outstanding starting pitching. That's been their legacy.

Chris Archer, the ace of the staff, lost for the third time Thursday and has yet to work through the sixth inning. Consider the key pieces in the rotation:

• Archer is 0-3 with a 5.87 ERA.

• Drew Smyly is 0-2 with a 4.61 ERA.

• Jake Odorizzi is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA.

• Lefty Matt Moore, showing a strong comeback from 2014 Tommy John surgery, has pitched well, but he has no decisions to go with his 3.00 ERA.

There have been questions about Archer's velocity, but that showed improvement on Thursday, a positive for manager Kevin Cash.

"We need to get some runs for all of our pitchers early on," Cash said after Thursday's loss. "I honestly think Arch competed really well today. Whether we put him in a jam or he put himself in a jam, he made some big pitches. From the first inning on, there were guys on base, and for him to finagle his way out was impressive."

"The effort is there and we're all laying it out on the line," Archer added. "I respect that about the team so far and I just hope they can see that out of me as well."

Had it not been for a barrage of homers late in Tuesday night's 5-1 comeback win, the Indians might have swept the Rays, who are 3-6 and in last place in the American League East.

Obviously, the lack of offense has been a problem.

But with Cleveland sending Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to the mound in the three-game series, Tampa Bay faced pitchers who could be the ace of almost any staff.

Without any run support, Rays pitchers have been walking a tightrope. The club has been outscored, 28-9, in the first five innings. Ten of its 24 runs this season have come in the eighth inning.

Catcher Hank Conger put it this way: "The biggest thing for us now is to give our pitchers some breathing room."

During the offseason, the objective was to improve offense. But aside from power spurts by designated hitter Corey Dickerson, the Rays' new offensive pieces have sputtered. First baseman Logan Morrison is 2-for-29 and shortstop Brad Miller is 2-for-26.

"You want those guys, especially those we brought in from another organization, to get off to a good start and find some comfort," said Cash. "I think they will. Brad Miller, a bright spot, I think he has barreled up four or five balls in his last five or six at-bats. That's been good to see. It's one swing of the bat, one big play that can settle a lot of people. Let's hope it happens soon."

Wednesday night, when the Rays lost to the Indians, 4-1, Smyly struck out 11 batters and allowed just two earned runs on three hits.

"I knew going in that I had to show up and it was probably going to be a pitching duel [with Carrasco, who came close to a no-hitter vs. the Rays last July]," Smyly said. "I just tried to do my best to keep my team close, give our team a chance to win."

The defense, which like pitching is usually a Tampa Bay trademark, has also been mediocre this season. When combined with offensive troubles and shaky starting pitching, the Rays' costly errors make it easy to understand why the start has been such a disappointment.

However, Cash said he liked what he saw on Thursday.

"I actually like the fact today that it looked like guys were frustrated," Cash said. "We all should be a little frustrated after just the way we performed the last couple of nights, especially today. Hopefully, we'll turn that frustration into a positive and get on the board early tomorrow."

Added Archer: "There's frustration because we know we're better than what our record reflects. We've played nine games, so there's a lot more season left. Everybody is going to get back to what we're capable of doing on both sides of the baseball."

It probably won't get easier. The torrid White Sox, who've won seven of their nine games, arrive at Tropicana Field for the weekend. And lefty Chris Sale, who is 2-0, is on the hill Friday night.

Stay tuned.