After getting his first taste of life in the Majors, Tampa Bay's top pitching prospect Chris Archer knows he has the game to succeed at the highest level.
An injury while pitching back in Triple-A Durham in early July temporarily slowed Archer's return to the big leagues, but in hindsight, it might not have been such a bad thing.
The right-hander allowed three hits over six innings Thursday as the Bulls beat the Gwinnett Braves, 1-0. He struck out three batters and did not allow a runner to advance beyond second base.
"Everything's good now," MLB.com's No. 60 prospect said of the oblique strain that forced him to miss a start and has kept him on a strict pitch count ever since. "I feel 100 percent now.
"I haven't had any setbacks from that, and the best thing about it is that it's made me attack hitters and pitch more effectively. Maybe the oblique strain was a blessing in disguise."
Jack Wilson lined a one-out double to left field in the top of the first inning, but Archer stranded him in scoring position as he went on to retire the next five batters he faced.
Rusty Ryal singled through the hole to left field to lead off the third, but Archer induced an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play ball off the bat of Jose Constanza to take the shutout into the fourth frame.
The only other Braves to reach base against Archer were Ernesto Mejia -- who singled up the middle in the fourth -- and Constanza, who was hit by a pitch in the sixth.
"I felt like it was probably my best outing of the season," he said. "I was really efficient with my pitches. On the physical side of it, I've been working with the pitching coach to be consistent with everything. On the mental side of it, I was mindful of every pitch I threw whether it was a ball or a strike, a hit or an out. That was a big thing for me.
"My fastball command was there and I was able to put guys away pretty quickly. All of my pitches -- my slider, changeup, two-seam fastball and four-seam fastball -- were there tonight."
Archer, who threw 45 of 77 pitches for strikes, was replaced in the seventh by Brandon Gomes, who fanned two batters over two perfect innings of relief.
Right-hander Dane De La Rosa struck out the side around Terry Tiffee's one-out single off the glove of shortstop Reid Brignac in the ninth to complete the shutout and earn his 13th save of the year.
The outing lowered Archer's ERA to 4.15, the lowest it has been since his first start of the year on April 8 when he allowed a run on two hits in his season debut at home to the Gwinnett Braves.
The Rays' No. 2 prospect has had his share of ups and downs in 2012. He took the loss in four consecutive starts twice (April 13-28 and May 24-June 8) and has had to fight to get his ERA below 5.00 for most of the year after surrendering nine runs over 2 2/3 innings in his second start of the year.
He strained his left oblique in a game against Gwinnett on July 7. He was removed for precautionary reasons after the first and missed his next turn in the rotation the following week. In his first game back from the injury -- at home to Rochester on July 22 -- the club limited him to 41 pitches over 2 2/3 innings in the second game of a doubleheader.
On the plus side, the 23-year-old right-hander allowed one earned run on three hits over six innings in his big league debut against Washington on June 20, and he yielded four runs over 5 2/3 innings in his second start six days later. He struck out 14 batters and issued just two walks over 11 2/3 innings.
"One of the biggest things from that was that I went from believing that I could be successful to knowing I could be successful at the Major League level," said Archer, who had pitched just 3 2/3 innings over the past three-and-a-half weeks.
"I only had eight days of service time, but the experience was worth a lifetime. James Shields, BJ Upton and David Price accepted me right away and I didn't feel like I was a rookie. They took me under their wing and didn't mistreat me. Carlos Pena too. To be under the wing of those veterans and guys like Price, who's only three years older than me, was amazing. It was a great experience."
Gwinnett starter Yohan Flande (5-8) allowed an unearned run on five hits and four walks while striking out seven batters over six innings in the hard-luck loss.