ST. PETERSBURG — Seeing Chris Archer leaving Saturday’s game with elbow tightness in the third inning, walking slowly off the Tropicana Field mound he had been so excited to re-take, gave the Rays much to be concerned about.
Injuries already had caused them major problems in this young season, and the potential loss of a starter for an extended time would be a significant blow.
But a couple hours later, the Rays were feeling better about things.
The initial diagnosis on Archer was encouraging, possibly no more than tendinitis, with his stay on the injured list likely as short as missing one start.
The Rays hung on to win 4-0 in front of a a limited capacity crowd of 6,270, extending their recent dominance over the Yankees to a fifth straight series win (six if you count the AL Division Series). Their reconfigured bullpen did a tremendous job covering the remaining innings and making the early lead stand.
And, for the feel best-est part, Brent Honeywell, the one-time top prospect sidelined since February 2018 by injuries, was called up to make his long-awaited big-league debut Sunday as the opener.
Archer, returning to the Rays as a free agent after being traded to Pittsburgh in July 2018, didn’t know what to think when the elbow first became an issue.
His first start, and second outing, had been going well, but he knew enough was amiss to summon catcher Francisco Mejia, with manager Kevin Cash and head athletic trainer Joe Benge to quickly follow.
The issue was on the outside of the elbow, away from the ligaments that tear and lead to serious problems like Tommy John surgery, so major concerns were quickly alleviated.
“I thought it was just something that kind of comes and goes, because things come and go as you start,” Archer said. “But it lingered, and I found myself altering how I was throwing a little and it just wasn’t worth it.
“Fortunately, it’s nothing serious. But there’s definitely some tightness in there that I need to get out. So I’m glad that we took the precautions that we did. And I’m really glad the bullpen stepped up.”
That was a common theme among the Rays, especially since four relievers they were counting upon heavily — Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, Chaz Roe and Ryan Sherriff — already have been sidelined.
But Saturday, the foursome of Andrew Kittredge (who had to do the warmup-on-the-mound thing), Jeffrey Springs, Ryan Thompson and Chris Mazza teamed up for 6 2/3 impressive innings, allowing the Yankees just two hits and two walks.
“They were outstanding,” Cash said. “Early test for ’em, pitching kind of out of a role earlier than they anticipate. Probably woke Kittredge up to get him in the ballgame. …
“Look, anytime you shut out a team in Major League Baseball, it’s saying something. When you do it in that fashion against that lineup, it’s really saying something given that Chris could only go 2 1/3.”
The Rays had the lead due to early success off Yankees starter Domingo German, and some luck.
Austin Meadows homered off the righfield foul pole in the first inning, his third overall.
Mejia, acquired from San Diego in the Blake Snell trade, delivered two in the second, his grounder caroming off German’s glove to score Joey Wendle and Willy Adames, who led off with singles.
Then Randy Arozarena, the breakout star of last postseason, hit his first 2021 homer, a payoff for pre-game work with hitting coach Chad Mottola, whom he pointed at in the dugout before heading to first.
“We went over some video from the postseason and what I looked like,” said Arozarena, via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “He noticed my elbow, that I would lift it or keep it lower depending if I was hot or not. So I thought about that during the game and came out with good results.”
In a way, that kind of summed up the Rays’ day.
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