ST. PETERSBURG — After pitching to Hank Conger for four mostly miserable starts, Chris Archer got a new batterymate Monday.
Then he got his batteries re-charged.
For the first time in 2016, Rays fans saw the Archer of 2015. Brandishing far better fastball location, which allowed him to dust off his changeup and toss a periodically baffling slider, Archer struck out 10 and gave up five hits in 62/3 innings in the Rays' 2-0 victory over the Orioles before a Tropicana Field crowd of 12,996.
"He executed pitches today," manager Kevin Cash said. " 'Arch' is going to pitch fastball-slider, but when he has a changeup like that going tonight, he might as well use it."
And wouldn't you know it, that new catcher — Curt Casali — had a big hand in helping Archer earn his first win since Aug. 31.
A .139 hitter entering the night, Casali's two-out double to leftfield — on a 3-and-2 pitch from Orioles starter Kevin Gausman — scored Steven Souza Jr. all the way from first in the fifth inning. Cash credited third-base coach Charlie Montoyo with "the send of the year" in signaling Souza all the way around.
An inning later, Casali was grazed on the jersey by a Vance Worley pitch with the bases loaded, bringing in Tampa Bay's second run.
That gave Casali two RBIs for the night, one fewer than his 2016 total entering the game. But the evening belonged to Archer, whose five career scoreless starts with at least 10 strikeouts is a franchise best, ESPN Stats and Info said.
"I was basically Curt Casali's robot. I didn't shake hardly (any pitch signs) at all," said Archer, the majors' strikeout leader with 39. "He told me not to shake at all going into the game, and (pitching coach Jim) Hickey told me not to shake at all, and I tried so hard not to. … And it helped that I had all three pitches going."
The foray into the seventh inning was Archer's first such this season. Sixty-five of his 93 pitches were for strikes. The 29 pitches he totaled in the first two innings were four fewer than he needed to get out of the first inning of Wednesday's 7-3 loss at Boston.
During that two-inning stretch, Archer got 0-and-1 counts on five of the seven batters he faced. With the fastball on, he then went offspeed.
Four of his strikeouts came on the changeup, PITCHf/x said, three more than he got with the pitch in all of '15.
"Frankly I didn't think it was going to be as wicked, dominant as it was," Casali said. "But that's a great tool for him … and we'll definitely be using that in games in the future."
Standing throw-to-throw with Archer initially was Gausman, a right-hander making his 2016 debut after a stint on the disabled list. Gausman allowed two hits in the first four innings before encountering trouble. His one-out walk to Souza — who rallied from an 0-and-2 count — was followed by Casali's blast two batters later.
It was all Archer and Co. needed, ending — for now — the grumblings about the Rays' ace.
"I didn't hear anybody talking (during the 0-4 start) because the only people's opinions I care about is my team," Archer said, "and they've been very supportive through a couple of tough outings like they always have been."