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HOU@TB: Archer fans eight over 6 2/3 shutout innings

Chris Archer was in command during his last start.

Tampa Bay's 25-year-old starter allowed just three hits and no runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Astros on June 19. He fanned eight.

"He's getting better," manager Joe Madden said. "The big thing with me with him is he's still young."

Archer had gone more than a month without a win, but his numbers since May 16 have been nothing short of excellent. In his past seven starts, he's dropped his season ERA from 5.16 to 3.14 by holding opposing lineups to just four earned runs in 40 2/3 innings of work.

Madden said there's a key to Archer's continued success:

"Primary thing is the fastball and the fastball command," he said. "If that stays solvent, he's going to pitch really well. It's a lightning bolt. The fastball is alive and everything plays off of that. I think for the most part, the last couple of outings, the fastball command overall has been better and that's what you're seeing."

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle knows how great Tampa Bay's rotation can be.

"When you're gonna face the guys, we're gonna face [Alex] Cobb and Archer and [David] Price, that's three very capable Major League pitchers," he said. "So depending on how they show up and how our guys show up, we'll see, but they're definitely playing better baseball."

Meanwhile, the Pirates will put Jeff Locke on the mound Tuesday. The 26-year-old went 10-7 last season for the playoff-bound Pirates, but he's still looking for his first victory of 2014.

He was called up for a start in May, and then recalled in June for three more -- he's made the most of his opportunities, too, and left three games with the lead. But the Pirates blew all of those games, and Locke's record currently stands at 0-1.

The way things are going lately, Locke could pick up that elusive "W." Pittsburgh has now won four of five, and looks to keep the momentum going before the All-Star break.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has won three of seven, and currently sits in last place in the AL East with a 31-47 record, which is also the worst record in the Majors.

"I think they've averaged, what, 92 wins [per season] over five years?" Hurdle said. "They're a good baseball team. They've had a hard start. They've actually picked up their play here in the last week and a half. With the staff they have, with the position players they have, it's a matter of time before they right this thing, in my mind, and play the kind of ball consistently that they're capable of."

Rays: Hellickson on the road back
Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow) gave up six runs (five earned) in five innings for Triple-A Durham in his fourth rehab start Sunday night. Included in his line were a home run, eight hits and seven strikeouts.

Despite the numbers, Maddon said that Hellickson "pitched much better."

"Had a brief conversation before with [head athletic trainer] Ronnie [Porterfield] that his health is good," Maddon said. "Now, I'll have a conversation with [Rays executive vice president] Andrew [Friedman] and the boys upstairs about the next step."

Pirates: Walker beats club to Florida
Neil Walker was already in Florida for a rehab assignment with the Class A Advanced Bradenton Marauders before the Pirates arrived to play the Rays. Walker has been on the disabled list since a June 9 appendectomy.

He started at second base on Sunday night, and is expected to rejoin the Major League club on Tuesday, his first day of eligibility.

Hurdle said he anticipates a roster move to take place then.

Worth noting
• Wil Myers has a new cast on his injured right wrist. According to the Rays outfielder, he will likely have the wrist re-examined in approximately two weeks.

• The Rays have played in 20 games this season that ended in a shutout. Tampa Bay is 9-11 in those contests.

• With an RBI single in the third inning of Monday's game, Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen became the Pirates' leader in Interleague RBIs, with 52. McCutchen, who had previously been tied with Brian Giles at 51, added one more to his total in the ninth inning.

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