ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Archer's enigmatic season continued Sunday -- in a good way.
Archer is the same player many considered to be the best young pitcher in baseball headed into the season. The stuff was there. The makeup, too. Just a matter of putting it all together, and 2016 was supposed to be the year.
It hasn't exactly turned out that way, and in the Rays' 5-1 loss to the Tigers on Sunday, it looked like more of the same in the first inning. The right-hander walked two and allowed a weak single through the right side of a shifted infield to load the bases with no outs.
Entering Sunday's game, Archer had a 10.06 ERA in the first inning, so it appeared the car wreck was taking place in slow motion. Instead, Archer rallied to strike out Victor Martinez, Nick Castellanos, and Justin Upton to escape the jam.
"Just focussed on trying to get contact," Archer said. "I really didn't change anything."
Archer added a second scoreless frame, but he finished the second inning with 49 pitches on his slate. That projected to an elevated pitch count, an early departure, and an added load for the bullpen.
Only Archer buckled down, using 66 pitches to negotiate his final 3 2/3 innings, leaving him with a final line that showed no runs on three hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
"Can't help but feel really good about what Chris Archer did today," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "For the way it started, and the way he kicked it in gear and kind of showed us the Archer that we know he's very capable of being. That was an outstanding effort, outstanding performance.
"For him to become even remotely close to getting his pitch count back in order the way that he did after the first [two innings], you don't foresee guys going that deep like he did. Just an outstanding effort by Arch."
Archer's no-decision allowed him to dodge his 12th loss this season. No Rays pitcher in team history has lost 12 games prior to the All-Star break.
What was the difference Sunday? Cash said Archer "got in a zone more."
"The slider strike started showing up a lot more consistently for him," Cash said. "Really threw a lot of strikes in the first two pitches. We always talk about his stuff. His stuff is elite. And when he's capable of doing that, you're going to see good results, even against very good lineups like he faced today."
Electric stuff, minus the results, has been a tough pill for Archer and the Rays to swallow this season. Archer said that has been "frustrating" but "definitely not something I dwell on."
"It does alter the course of the game and makes the bullpen come in a little earlier than need be," Archer said. "But I don't beat myself up over it. Just, for some reason, the first 10 or 15 pitches haven't been ideal for me. A day like today is something I don't beat myself up over, because you have to move forward. You have to give the team your best after all the stuff happens. And I think I did a decent job of that today."
Cash didn't discount the possiblity that Archer might have turned the corner on Sunday, even if it was in another Rays loss.
"We can't help but be excited about his individual outing," Cash said.
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.