CHICAGO -- With two weeks left in the season, the Pirates have decided to shut down rehabbing right-hander Chris Archer rather than rushing him back to the mound.
“We had a game plan if everything went well, and it didn’t go perfectly. So there’s no point in trying to force anything to happen,” Archer said Sunday at Wrigley Field. “There’s still a little bit of soreness in there. As opposed to continuing to throw through it, might as well just continue to rest it.”
Archer, who has been out since Aug. 20 due to right shoulder inflammation, has continued to work out with the team and play catch on flat ground. He hasn’t suffered a new injury, and he shouldn’t need any more treatment than initially expected, but the Pirates simply ran out of time to get him built back up to start one of their final 12 games.
“He’s worked hard, hasn’t progressed as he had hoped or we had hoped. We’re just running out of days,” general manager Neal Huntington said on Sunday. “Let’s turn our attention to offseason prep, let him have a great baseball offseason, which he hasn’t had as a Pirate.”
Archer underwent a procedure to repair a bilateral hernia last November and didn’t even start his rehabilitation work until December. Archer hasn’t used the operation as an excuse, but the Pirates believe his interrupted offseason -- and that of Joe Musgrove, who also had abdominal surgery last winter -- may have affected him on the mound this season.
Now, Archer will have 4-6 weeks to rest and rid himself of the soreness in his shoulder before beginning a normal offseason routine.
“In my time, I’ve come to recognize that that is a huge factor in a player’s season the next year,” Huntington said. “We’re excited for Chris and Joe to have a baseball offseason, come in next year and be the pitchers we expect and need them to be.”
Archer, acquired from the Rays last summer for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and pitching prospect Shane Baz, will finish his first full season with the Pirates with a 3-9 record, a 5.19 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 119 2/3 innings over 23 starts. His contract includes a $9 million club option for next season that the Pirates seemingly intend to exercise.
The 30-year-old right-hander was hoping to put together a strong finish to this year, and he was encouraged by some of the work he did after a rough start. In his final 11 outings, Archer struck out 74 batters and walked only 22 in 55 innings while holding opponents to a .234/.314/.402 slash line.
“It stinks because it puts our team in a tough position, and I was feeling a lot better the second half of the season,” Archer said. “The smart play going forward is just to come back fully healthy, have a normal offseason and continue to fine-tune the things that I found in the second half and maybe even find ways to get better.”
The Pirates haven’t shut down any of their other injured players, a list that most notably includes first baseman Josh Bell (left groin discomfort), center fielder Starling Marte (sprained left wrist) and catcher Jacob Stallings (back tightness). Only Marte was available off the bench for Sunday’s series finale vs. the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and he was limited to pinch-running duty.
“There’s always value in players finishing healthy if the calendar allows them to,” Huntington said. “In Josh’s case, we’ve still got some inflammation in there and he’s working through that, and we’ll know more in the coming days. In Starling’s case, he’s continued to try to work through [it]; there’s just some inflammation in that wrist that’s still hindering his ability to swing the bat.”
The Pirates will reassess Bell and Marte on Tuesday, Huntington said, as Monday’s off-day gives them additional time to rest and recover.
“If there’s risk for further damage, then the shutdown becomes easy,” Huntington said. “If it’s just an inflammation thing that they’re battling through, then the ideal situation becomes that they work themselves back when they’re ready to go.”
Right fielder Gregory Polanco, who was previously shut down due to lingering left shoulder inflammation, is receiving a series of platelet-rich plasma injections with the hope of having a relatively healthy, normal offseason after another injury-plagued season.
“The PRP sequencing is having the effects that we hoped it would have,” Huntington said. “As we sit here today, very positive path.”
Huntington said the Pirates “need to learn from” the clubhouse fight that took place Monday between closer Felipe Vazquez and reliever Kyle Crick, which resulted in Crick sustaining a season-ending hand injury and Vazquez needing stitches on his nose. But the Pirates don’t feel obligated to deal away either Crick or Vazquez, Huntington added.
“It’s not fine. It’s not good,” Huntington said. “We don’t have to trade either one. Talking with veteran baseball guys, fights happen in clubhouses every year. This one became very public because of the injuries, and it’s not OK. We’re not just passing it off as, ‘Well, it happens and boys will be boys.’ That’s not the way we feel at all. At the same time, there are times when things do escalate, they become physical and both players are able to move on and coexist.
“As we sit here today, if there’s an opportunity to improve the club, if there’s an opportunity to take some of our right-handed depth to add to our left-handed depth, if there’s an opportunity to get an elite return, that’s a decision we make regardless of what happened between those two. It’s an unfortunate situation. It’s not acceptable. It’s not OK. We’ll learn from it and move on.”