At 17 games behind league-leading Charlotte, Durham has been mathematically eliminated from making the International League playoffs.
But Chris Archer, Tampa Bay's No. 2 prospect, doesn't need any additional impetus to succeed. There are no meaningless games, just opportunities to improve.
The right-hander scattered three hits over 6 1/3 innings Wednesday, and the Triple-A Bulls beat the Norfolk Tides, 2-0, despite collecting just one hit of their own.
"It's really not hard at all," Archer said. "We have a good staff here as far as the coaches are concerned, and they keep us motivated to play hard every night. We're all trying to finish up strong.
"[I'm trying to] stay mindful of every pitch and stay healthy. These are the things I really count on. I need to stay up with my workouts and my mental approach. Whether my outings are good or bad on paper, if I stay healthy, that is my goal."
Archer (7-9) allowed five baserunners in total -- two doubles, a single and a pair of walks -- but no more than one Norfolk hitter reached in any one inning, and nobody advanced to third.
The 23-year-old surrendered a two-out double to Flaherty in the first inning, and he issued a free pass to Ryan Flaherty in the fourth. Endy Chavez ripped a two-bagger to left in the fifth, Flaherty singled back up the middle in the sixth and Luis Exposito walked in the seventh.
"It was one of my most consistent games as far as command of my pitches," the North Carolina native said. "It was one of those special nights when I had everything working on all cylinders. I threw my fastball up and down, in and out. I could throw my slider for strikes and out of the zone. And I could throw my changeup in and out too.
"I was talking to [pitching coach] Neil Allen about it earlier this week, and we said there's maybe three or four times a season you have everything working."
MLB.com's No. 60 prospect threw 69 of 104 pitches for strikes and lowered his ERA to 3.79 in the win.
After going 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in two games with Tampa Bay earlier in the year, Archer has struck out 132 batters over 121 innings. That moved him into fifth all-time on the Bulls' Triple-A single-season strikeout list. He surpassed rehabbing Rays starter Jeff Niemann, who was fifth with 128.
Over his last five starts since Aug. 2, the right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.01 ERA over 31 1/3 innings. He's fanned 29 batters and walked seven over that stretch in what may be an audition for a spot in the Rays rotation when rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.
"I really don't know. These decisions are not up to me," said Archer, selected by the Indians in the fifth round of the 2006 Draft before being traded first to the Cubs and later to the Rays.
"If I'm fortunate to get that opportunity, whatever they ask of me, I'll do. If I get called up and don't pitch, that's fine with me. Just being around that playoff atmosphere would be good. But if there's a certain role, I'll be ready to fill those shoes."
On Wednesday, Adam Liberatore struck out two batters over 1 2/3 innings, and Dane De La Rosa worked around a hit and a walk to earn his 17th save of the year.
Durham managed to collected just one hit -- a first-inning single by Chris Gimenez -- but pushed across two runs on four consecutive walks and a wild pitch in the sixth.