Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Archer: Burden to improve isn't just on starting pitching

PORT CHARLOTTE — Chris Archer is not one to just accept simple verse.

The basic storyline at the opening of Rays camp Tuesday, not much longer than the sappy drivel on a Valentine's Day card, was that after last season's struggles any success they have must start with their starting pitching.

You heard it from the front-office execs, from the manager, from several of the starters themselves — how last year's 94-loss mess of a season was primarily the result of their inexplicable early season struggles, and how their expected rebound will make a considerable difference.

"I do think it all starts with us," Jake Odorizzi said. "We set the tone."'

But not so much from Archer.

"As long as we continue that, we'll at least have a chance, but obviously it's more than just pitching, just starting pitching," he said.

"People are going to have to step up in the bullpen. We're going to have to score more runs than we did last year, because when we did pitch well, we still struggled to win games.

"I'm taking full responsibility for what I can do, and everybody else on the staff is taking responsibility for what they can do. But I think it's time for us to shift away from relying solely on starting pitching. You look at teams that win championships and they're well-rounded. They can do everything. They can move the ball on offense. They drive in runs. Their bullpen is unreal. Every bullpen is unreal. And their starting pitching pitches really well, too. So to win championships, you've got to have everything clicking.

"And I think it's time for us as an organization to just say, Hey, you know what, we're a good team, we're not just a good starting five. We don't just have a good closer but we have a have a good bullpen. We play good defense. We score runs. And we pitched."

That may read like Archer is throwing shade at his teammates, especially for a guy whose self-inflicted slow start led to an American League-most 19 losses and who will miss part of this camp to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

But actually he was aiming higher, like at his bosses.

Remember in November, when Archer called on the Rays to spend more money in order to compete with their division rivals and be successful?

That didn't happen, as they made a flurry of moves in adding potentially helpful pieces like catcher Wilson Ramos and outfielder Colby Rasmus (both coming off surgery) and starting prospect Jose De Leon, but also trading veteran second baseman Logan Forsythe and starter Drew Smyly for what actually may end up a wash or a slight net reduction, with a payroll in the low to mid $60 million range.

Not surprisingly, Archer was not necessarily impressed with what they did, noting that the injury rehab presents some uncertainty.

"Time will tell," he said. "We came into this offseason with a nice nucleus. We subtracted somewhat from that nucleus. So I hope that we did the right thing."

The Rays need to be right about a lot of things to get back to contending after three down years. The acquisitions have to pan out. The players who got better last season have to keep improving. The defense has to be tightened up. They have to stay healthy, as the limited payroll limits depth. Plus, they need a couple of breaks, and maybe a surprise breakout.

And, yes, their starting pitchers have to be better.

"Without putting too much pressure on anybody, but that's how we're built," manager Kevin Cash said. "Ultimately, we know we revolve around starting pitching. And we're confident they don't have to do any more, just be the guys that we know they're capable of being."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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