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  1. Rays

Archer was right on target. Can't say same for critics

Chris Archer pitched a perfect four innings for Team USA, and as the Rays had requested, was pulled.
Chris Archer pitched a perfect four innings for Team USA, and as the Rays had requested, was pulled.
Published Mar. 12, 2017

MIAMI — Chris Archer's only flaw Friday night was pitching too well.

If he hadn't been so incredibly sharp, if he hadn't gotten so many quick outs, if he hadn't rolled through four perfect innings of Team USA's World Baseball Classic opener against Colombia in just 41 pitches, there would have been no controversy.

• The Rays' request that he be limited to the lesser of four innings or 60 pitches would have been a small note rather than a major topic of postgame discussion.

• There would have been no comparisons — or veiled cultural references — to how Colombian starter Jose Quintana of the White Sox worked into the sixth while Archer stopped after four.

• And there would not have been criticism of the Rays, led by Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, saying they pulled "a stunt" and should be blamed for contributing "to the perception that U.S. cares less about the WBC than other countries by setting greater restrictions on the use of American players and in some cases discouraging them to participate."

That's all wrong. The Rays made the right call.

The WBC is an inspiring concept, put on by MLB and the players union, but, especially played at this time of year, it will never be the priority. It can't be.

As much as the Rays invest in pitcher health, they have the right to set a limit that Archer agreed to and was conveyed in advance to Team USA officials.

The only thing the Rays are guilty of is looking out for the best interest of one of their key players. Sure, that also means they are doing what's best for their team. But isn't that what you'd want?

They surely would have similar restrictions on Archer whether he was playing for Colombia or anyone else. Conversely, if Quintana was a Rays pitcher, he would have had similar limits.

The issue Friday wasn't the limit on pitches but innings, or up-downs. Archer had gone three/49 in his previous spring start, so four/60 was a reasonable increase given the higher intensity at which he would be pitching in red, white and blue.

Had Archer been pitching in Port Charlotte on Friday, under the Rays' watchful eyes, they may have let him start the fifth. But unless Team USA pitching coach Jeff Jones was going to arrange a conference call from the dugout, Archer was wise to tell him they had to stick to the plan agreed to in advance.

Team USA manager Jim Leyland didn't help things by making it sound postgame like the limit was news to him. Nor did it look good that Archer went to the bullpen after leaving the game to log his additional 15-18 pitches, though that is done to build stamina at lower intensity.

"We were thrilled to see Arch pitch effectively, efficiently, and to represent his country so well," Rays GM Erik Neander said Saturday. "At this point in a pitcher's progression, pitch count is certainly a key factor with respect to buildup, but at game intensity we also place a similar emphasis on the progression of up-downs.

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"Our philosophies on starter buildup are a result of significant consultation with a variety of perspectives ranging from medical, to Hick, to our pitchers themselves. We recognize that what's best can vary for each individual pitcher, and our understanding as an industry will continue to evolve. But the constant in all of this is that we prioritize the well-being of our players above all else."

Archer said Saturday there was no further talk with Leyland or Jones about the issue, and "it didn't tarnish it to me in any way."

Whether he stays with Team USA to start again "is still up in the air" depending on if they advance and when they play. To be lined up for the Rays' April 2 opener, he needs to pitch somewhere Thursday. And there will be a limit.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: RHP Jumbo Diaz, claimed on waivers Friday from the Reds, said it is a little weird not getting to join his new squad since he's in the WBC, but has been getting filled in by Dominican/Rays teammate Alex Colome. … Archer said throwing to All-Star C Buster Posey was a great and educational experience. Ex-Rays manager Joe Maddon reportedly gets a bump from $5 million to $6 million a year for winning the World Series with the Cubs. … With Nos. 22 (Andrew McCutchen), 24 (Andrew Miller) and 42 (retired for players) unavailable for Team USA, Archer wore 4, as he did in high school.

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