Colby Rasmus

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Archer outduels Tanaka, Rays top Yankees in MLB opener

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pitch by pitch, Chris Archer set the tone for what he and the Tampa Bay Rays hope will be a bounce-back year.

Not such a good start for Masahiro Tanaka and the New York Yankees.

Archer pitched seven solid innings, and the Rays roughed up Tanaka on the way to beating New York 7-3 in the first game of the new Major League Baseball season Sunday.

“We didn’t play perfect, but we played well enough to win,” Archer said. “We scored a lot of runs and made some nice defensive plays. It’s all about winning, and we did that.”

And what the Rays didn’t do a lot of last season, when they sank to the bottom of the AL East with their worst finish (68-94) since 2007.

New York lost on opening day for the sixth consecutive year, with Tanaka matching the shortest start ever by a Yankees pitcher in an opener.

“It happens. He’s human,” Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “He just didn’t command anything. … He usually self corrects real well. But today, he tried a few things and it just didn’t work.”

Evan Longoria and Logan Morrison homered and drove in three runs apiece before a sellout crowd of 31,042 at Tropicana Field. Tanaka, who had baseball’s lowest ERA in spring training, was tagged for a career-worst seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.

A first-time All-Star in 2015 who lost an AL-leading 19 times last season, Archer (1-0) limited New York to two runs and seven hits. He narrowly escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh to turn a five-run lead over to a revamped bullpen.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said it was important to give his ace an opportunity to get through the seventh.

“I’m really happy he did, not only for my sake but the other guys on the staff, too,” Archer said. ” I want them to know when stuff gets hairy, you need to strap it on and go right after them. We don’t need to be bailed out, we need to get out of the inning.”

There were three games around in the majors on the first day, and the Rays got off to a quick start.

Leadoff man Corey Dickerson singled in the Tampa Bay first for the first hit of the season and later scored on Longoria’s sacrifice fly as part of a three-run inning. Longoria connected for a two-run drive in the second.

Aaron Judge had a RBI double, while Starlin Castro and Chase Headley each had three hits for the Yankees.

Tanaka (0-1) made his third consecutive opening day start for the Yankees, and had been 6-0 with a 2.82 ERA in eight career starts against Tampa Bay. He gave up eight hits and two walks.

Longoria connected for his fourth homer on opening day. Morrison, who didn’t drive in a run until May 17 last season, added a solo drive in the third.

“Obviously, you just have to accept it. I can’t take it back,” Tanaka said through a translator. “So, the main thing is, I really need to move forward from today. Make the necessary adjustments.”

UNCHARACTERISTIC

Tanaka, who tied Hideo Nomo for the most opening day starts by a Japanese-born pitcher, had a seven-game winning streak stopped. He went 7-0 with a 2.28 ERA over his final nine starts of last season. … Tanaka had won all three of his previous career starts at Tropicana Field, limiting the Rays to four earned runs in 20 innings for a 1.80 ERA. He led the AL with a 2.36 road ERA in 2016, trailing only the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard (2.29) for the major league lead.

It was the second-shortest start of Tanka’s career. He tied the Yankees shortest on opening day, joining Ron Guidry (1983) and Mel Stottlemyre (1973).

LEADING OFF

Dickerson, who hit 24 home runs last year, was 1 for 5 in his debut as Tampa Bay’s leadoff hitter against right-handed pitching. Cash is considering moving right-handed batting Steven Souza Jr. to the top of the order against left-handers, beginning Tuesday against CC Sabathia.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Yankees: SS Didi Gregorius (right shoulder strain) expects to start limited baseball activities the middle of this week. He is out until some time in May. … INF-OF Tyler Austin (broken left ankle) was placed on the 60-day disabled list.

Rays: Longoria, who sat out Tampa Bay’s final spring training game due to a stiff neck, made his club-record ninth consecutive start on opening day. … Seven players, including C Wilson Ramos, OF Colby Rasmus and SS Matt Duffy, begin the season on the disabled list.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP CC Sabathia, 3-7 in 14 starts at Tropicana Field since joining New York in 2009, is Tuesday night’s scheduled starter. He’s 2-0 against the Rays in three road starts over the last two seasons.

Rays: RHP Jake Odorizzi is set to work the second game of the series, which resumes after a day off. He went 7-1 with a 2.71 ERA in 14 outings after the All-Star break last year. He was the only Tampa Bay starter with a winning record, at 10-6, in 2016.

Report: Blue Jays open to offers on Melvin Upton Jr.

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The Blue Jays are reportedly seeking alternatives to 32-year-old outfielder Melvin Upton Jr., according to Buster Olney of ESPN. While their Opening Day roster does not appear to be set in stone just yet, rumor has it that they’re open to offers on the veteran outfielder, and FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman believes the Giants and Rays could be a good fit.

Upton Jr. is coming off of a surprisingly productive season at the plate, during which he batted .238/.291/.402 with 20 home runs and 27 steals for the Padres and Blue Jays in 2016. He saw more playing time and a better production rate in San Diego, but was able to contribute something down the stretch for Toronto and tacked on a pair of hits in 11 postseason PA.

The sudden influx of power and speed that boosted Upton Jr.’s totals in 2016 evaporated in spring training, however. He batted an underwhelming .194/.216/.472 in 14 Grapefruit League games, putting up three home runs and getting caught stealing twice in two attempts. Although he made an interesting candidate for the Blue Jays’ fourth outfield spot, the team will likely go with 29-year-old Ezequiel Carrera or 24-year-old Dalton Pompey in left field, barring any external alternatives.

Of the two potential landing spots mentioned by Heyman, Tampa Bay appears to be in greater need of outfield depth as Opening Day nears. With Colby Rasmus and infielder/outfielder Nick Franklin out of the picture, the Rays are expected to split left field between 23-year-old Mallex Smith and veteran Peter Bourjos. The Giants, on the other hand, appear set with Seth Marrero and Jarrett Parker sharing left field duties, though adding some depth at the position shouldn’t be out of the question just yet.

Colby Rasmus looks very special this year

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Dearest Martha,

When I and the men with whom I share this most noble cause settled in this corner of the Wyoming Territory, we did so in the name of freedom. In the name of our righteous calling from Our Creator. While my love for you is deathless as is the love of the men under my command for their wives and mothers, it pales to our commitment to The Cause. It comes over us like a strong wind and bears us irresistibly into conflict.  

Word comes that President Grant has mustered a thousand troops to disrupt our work and, as I write this, they march westward. Soon they will be upon us. But though they may be blessed with superior arms and numbers, our resolve is unmatched by any force, on Heaven or on Earth. 

If, dearest Martha, I do not survive the coming conflagration, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Know, though, that should I perish, I do so in the name of righteousness. In the name of the establishment of a land where all Men can experience liberty in the way God Almighty intends for us to experience it.

Yours in love, forever,

Colby

Editor’s Note: Colby Rasmus was killed in The Battle of Thermopolis on July 10, 1871 when Federal troops successfully put down the insurrection he and 17 other men mounted, the objective of which was to establish an independent nation in which a willing man could marry a willing bison without the interference of the United States government.

PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18: Colby Rasmus #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
PORT CHARLOTTE, FL – FEBRUARY 18: Colby Rasmus #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

UPDATE: I was not aware of the fact that some folks at SB Nation had done this bit with Andrew Luck. They do it better, even if Colby Rasmus looks worse than Luck. We all bow to Ken Burns, of course.