ST. PETERSBURG — For openers, Ryne Stanek pitched extremely well for the Rays Tuesday, retiring the first six Blue Jays. As the relieving starter, Austin Pruitt did all right, getting eight more outs.
By night's end, the Rays used six pitchers total from a bullpen that's default status update should be "taxed.'' That collaboration, along with a two-run homer by Wilson Ramos, other clutch hitting and a handful of pretty good plays in the field added up to a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays.
"Obviously, I think the story of the game is the bullpen,'' manager Kevin Cash said, "and the way they came in and pieced it together.''
With Chris Archer's return to action delayed indefinitely, it's going to be like this for the Rays, at least three days out of five, at a time when their schedule gets downright brutal.
After today's matinee against the Blue Jays, the Rays head into what looks to be the most rigorous, gut-wrenching, pitcher-challenging stretch they'll have, 16 straight games against the contending Yankees, Astros and Nationals, starting with a trip to New York and Houston.
And they'll be doing it with exactly two — yes, if you haven't been following along, two — traditional starters in their rotation.
Eovaldi and Snell, and what the, um, …
Eovaldi and Snell, and who's next we can't tell?
Snell and Eovaldi, and … and … and … and what rhymes with Eovaldi?
"It definitely will be challenging going into those two ballparks,'' Cash said, diplomatically.
For the other three games that Blake Snell and Nathan Eovaldi don't start, at least when there is no day off as a reprieve, they're planning to stick with using game openers, with Stanek and his high-octane fastball now their top choice.
"Ideally with our starters — and I know it's different now, we were anticipating Arch to be back a little sooner — we'd like to be able to label him where he's doing it … twice in five games.''
When Archer first went on the DL last week with an abdominal strain, the Rays thought he'd miss only a start or two, best case pitching Sunday in New York.
But given the soreness he felt in the days after throwing 20 pitches off the mound Saturday, they don't really know when.
"It just tells us that I need to rest a little bit longer,'' he said.
If Archer feels good after a couple days off and gets through a mound session with no after-effects, he could be back in the next week or so. But if the soreness lingers for much past that, he's going to be set back weeks, as he'll need to build back up with rehab starts in the minors, which could delay him until near or even after the mid-July All-Star break.
That not only would impact the Rays starting plans in the short term, but potentially — wink, wink — their strategy, in a season committed to youth, leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, when Archer, at the least, will be a prime subject of conversation and speculation.
For the same reason but potentially different motives, both sides want to be cautious in making sure when he returns he is in top form.
Said Archer: "If I'm on the DL, I want to come back 100 percent because I'm not doing anybody any favors by coming back any less than that. …''
Said Cash: "We've got to allow him the time that when he gets back off a mound again that he does feel good because the last thing you want him to do is try to pitch through something and alter his mechanics, alter his delivery to where that affects something more serious like his arm or something.''
Tuesday night, anyway, they had reason to exhale, and smile.
The win over the Jays was their second straight and third in four games, improving to 31-35.
The pitching, as a group effort, was good enough, as they went from Stanek to Pruitt (who got the win) to Jonny Venters to Chaz Roe to Jose Alvarado to Sergio Romo (who got the save).
Doing so can take some unusual, and risky, moves. Such as Cash deciding to go aggressive early, pulling Pruitt to start playing matchups with a 2-1 lead in the fifth.
"There's a lot of worry,'' he said. "(Pitching coach Kyle Snyder) and I were talking in the dugout that we needed a lot of things to go in our favor to piece it together like we envisioned.''
They got a two-run homer from Ramos and clutch singles by pinch-hitter Joey Wendle and Mallex Smith.
And they got some dazzling defense from rookies Willy Adames and Jake Bauers.
On some nights, it can work out. But it's never going to be easy.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays