HOUSTON -- Mere hours after his manager lamented the state of his overworked bullpen, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer did what is required of aces when the relievers could use a bit of a break: he pitched efficiently and gobbled up innings.
Archer produced another quality start at Minute Maid Park and the Rays averted a series sweep with a 10-4 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday.
Archer (8-17) scuffled through the fourth inning but was otherwise outstanding, limiting Houston to three runs on four hits and two walks with 10 strikeouts. He reached 200 strikeouts on the season with his punchout of Astros first baseman A.J. Reed to close the sixth inning for his second consecutive 200-strikeout campaign.
"Elite stuff," Rays manager Kevin Cash said of Archer. "You put yourself into a category not a lot of pitchers get into. Coming in we knew Archer's stuff was right there at the top in baseball and that shows how elite in can be. If he continues to stay in the zone he's going to be in those categories quite a bit."
While he didn't match the brilliance of the one-hit shutout he tossed in Houston on Aug. 20, 2015, Archer faced just one batter over the minimum over his first three innings and repeated that feat over his final three frames, coming unraveled a bit in the fourth yet rebounding nicely to complete seven strong innings.
"Just to give the bullpen a little bit of a blow was my number one initiative going into the game," Archer said of his 114-pitch outing. "I think for the most part I was able to do that. Those guys in the pen have been working extremely hard all year so to get a team win and let our guys back there get a blow was huge."
The Rays (55-74) built a four-run lead against right-hander Doug Fister (12-9) before the Astros (68-62) mounted their futile rally. Steven Souza Jr. and Evan Longoria recorded RBIs in the second and third innings, respectively, before the former scored on an obstruction call against third baseman Alex Bregman in the Rays' two-run fourth. Luke Maile added an RBI double that upped the lead to 4-0.
"That happens and sometimes the ball bounces for you and sometimes it bounces away," said Fister, who allowed four runs (two earned) and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, of the Souza/Bregman collision. "I like to take the mentality that if you don't like it pitch better. I need to make better pitches and that's what it comes down to."
Clinging to a 4-3 lead, the Rays exploded for five runs in the eighth inning. Shortstop Matt Duffy socked a two-run home run, his fifth on the season, off Astros right-hander Michael Feliz. Left fielder Corey Dickerson greeted left-hander Tony Sipp with his 18th home run five batters later, a three-run shot to right field that followed back-to-back singles from Tim Beckham and Maile that chased Feliz.
Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa reached base in succession against Archer to open the fourth, with Altuve driving a first-pitch fastball into the Crawford Boxes in left field. His 21st home run cut the deficit in half, and Jason Castro later hit an RBI single that scored Correa, who followed the Altuve dinger with a single to right field.
Archer regained his footing almost as quickly as he temporarily lost it, setting the Astros down in order in the fifth inning before retiring the final six batters he faced after Correa opened the sixth with a single. Archer struck out four of his final five batters, running his season total to 202 strikeouts, tops in the American League.
"We get back into it 4-3 with a lot of good at-bats in that inning and then he (Archer) responded with high-end velocity," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He has his mid-90s (fastball). I think his 110th pitch was at 97 (miles per hour) so plenty of arm strength."
NOTES: Rays RHP Alex Cobb (Tommy John surgery) made his final rehab start for Triple-A Durham on Saturday night and is scheduled to rejoin the team in Boston. Cobb allowed one run on five hits with one strikeout over four innings. He is slated to pitch this weekend against Toronto in what would be his first appearance with the Rays since Sept. 28, 2014. ... Compromised by a thin bullpen, the Rays recalled RHP Steve Geltz from Triple-A Durham and optioned OF Mikie Mahtook. Geltz allowed one run on three hits in the eighth inning before being sent back to Durham. ... Astros DH Yuli Gurriel took early work in left field on Sunday and should make his first start in the field during the series against the Athletics. Gurriel has made four starts with the Astros, all as their designated hitter. ... Astros RHP Luke Gregerson (left ankle) is expected to return for the series against the Athletics. Gregerson last pitched on Aug. 18 against the Orioles.