DETROIT — The first day of life without Kevin Kiermaier didn't start well for the Rays.
That's because Chris Archer gave them another bad start.
So bad that he was pulled after three innings, albeit 77 pitches, in what ended up a 9-4 loss to the Tigers on Sunday.
"I've just got to do a better job," Archer said. "Period."
The inconsistent and somewhat ineffective performances by Archer and the rest of the starters is one of several primary problems that have plagued Tampa Bay through the first quarter of the season.
The lack of bullpen depth, evidenced repeatedly and addressed, in part, with Sunday's postgame demotion of struggling Steve Geltz, and the homer-heavy offense are also significant contributors to why the Rays are under .500 at 20-21.
And now they will not only have to play for at least a few more weeks without their most consistent hitter in Logan Forsythe but likely for a couple months or more without their most dynamic two-way threat in Kiermaier, who broke two bones in his left hand Saturday.
The official word from manager Kevin Cash is they will "mix and match" to replace Kiermaier, which might just be code for going with whoever is swinging a hot bat.
Mikie Mahtook was called up from Triple-A Durham and, on the basis of his strong September showing (.353, six homers, 1.103 OPS), will have the chance to claim the primary share of playing time, offering an enticing mix of power, speed and overall athleticism, and hustle.
"He might have had the best month is baseball, definitely on our team, in September," Cash said. "He looked like a guy that really got comfortable. The power evolved. Even his outs, loud outs, loud hits. Just a lot of good things for a player that wasn't proven at all."
Desmond Jennings, who was the primary centerfielder until being displaced by Kiermaier last year, also will get an additional opportunity after losing the leftfield job with sluggish and subpar play.
Brandon Guyer is a third option, though he is not as good defensively, and Steven Souza Jr. a potential fourth, or at least for in-game moves.
"We're going to have to play the guys that are producing for us," Cash said. "That's the bottom line."
Still, replacing Kiermaier, especially in the field, will be difficult.
He not only routinely made spectacular plays, but his speed and range allowed the Rays to position their other outfielders closer to the lines, which now might have to change. And just the threat of his arm made opposing third-base coaches cautious.
Given how they've played and whom they've played without, the Rays are fortunate to be just a game under .500.
• Their vaunted starting pitching has to be considered a disappointment, even if they do rank in the league's top five in staff ERA. Archer's outing Sunday marked the 17th time in 41 games a Rays starter did not get past even five innings, which is hardly much of a benchmark. Or put another way, it was the 24th time the team didn't get a quality start, which is six or more innings and three or fewer runs. For all the spring talk of having a handful of aces, whom would you trust to start if you had to win one game?
• Their bullpen is short at least one more reliable reliever, and that's beyond Brad Boxberger, who is targeted to return in the next week. It has become clear there are only two relievers they can trust totally in Alex Colome and Erasmo Ramirez; two they can trust at times in lefties Xavier Cedeno (who hasn't been as sharp as last year) and Enny Romero (who has been impressive and could grow into a larger role); and three they couldn't trust in anything close to a high-leverage moment in Ryan Webb, Dana Eveland and the now-departed Geltz.
• While they are hitting home runs at a startling pace, second in the majors with 61 going into play Sunday, their offense has been too much of an all-or-nothing proposition, thus unsustainable. They rank in the lower third in runs scored overall despite all the long balls and near the bottom in batting average and on-base percentage. They need to find more balance, especially without Forsythe and Kiermaier, two of the hitters who could extend rallies.
The next few weeks will be very telling, one way or another.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.