Rays manager Joe Maddon said there's no question right-hander Chris Archer has the pitching repertoire to be a consistent big-league starter.
"Outstanding," Maddon said. "Unbelievably good stuff."
But as much as Maddon loved the idea of Archer pitching in Wednesday's big game against the first-place Red Sox, knowing how much he "embraces" that kind of moment, he said the 24-year-old showed his inexperience in a 2-1 loss in front of 15,091 at Tropicana Field.
Archer was wild, in more ways than one, throwing a career-high 103 pitches in just four innings, then admittedly showing a little too much emotion after a fourth-inning bases-loaded strikeout of Daniel Nava, jumping and fist-pumping as he left the mound.
"I just did what was natural," Archer said. "I was pretty amped, and I let it show. They may have taken it the wrong way, but in no way was it directed toward anybody on the other team."
Nava, who hit the go-ahead two-run homer in the third, said Archer's celebration initially "threw me off guard," but he took no issue with it, understanding the right-hander "wanting to win." And that's not something the Rays (35-30) have done very much against Boston (41-26), falling to 2-7 this season, including two losses by a combined three runs the past three days to the AL East leader.
"This series indicates we are right with them," Maddon said. "But we've got to prove it on the field."
While Archer struggled, the loss wasn't all on him as the Rays squandered many opportunities, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, including stranding the tying run on second in the eighth and ninth inning. Tampa Bay entered Wednesday as the league's best in that situation but is hitting .141 against Boston, .092 in losses.
"It's been a little frustrating playing these guys, playing so many close games and not coming away with as many wins as we can," second baseman Ben Zobrist said.
"But there's a reason why they're ahead of the division right now, they've been playing good baseball, and we're going to have to catch up and play better."
Archer, coming off a dominant seven-inning performance against Baltimore on Friday, wasn't nearly as sharp Wednesday, taking 22 pitches to get through the first inning. He said he was trying to do "too much," which was "out of character," falling behind the patient Red Sox hitters, forcing him to throw a strike.
That hurt Archer in the third, as with two outs he fell behind 3-and-0 to Nava, who then fouled off four straight 3-and-2 pitches in a 10-pitch at-bat before ripping a slider into the rightfield seats. Archer popped off the mound, putting his hands over his head, knowing his backdoor slider went inside instead of outside.
"I had to come to him," Archer said. "Left it in a spot where he could hit it and he did the damage."
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Archer struck out seven, but he walked four, with Maddon calling him "shotgun-scattered."
"That's just a young pitcher finding his way in the major leagues," Maddon said.
Meanwhile, the Rays couldn't crack Red Sox right-hander Alfredo Aceves, whom the Rays entered Wednesday hitting .105 against. Aceves walked four but allowed just an Evan Longoria solo homer.
Said Maddon: "We can't hit that guy."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.