Archer has strong outing in spring debut

Bucs' ace fans four in two scoreless, hitless innings

March 5th, 2019

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Chris Archer had a pretty straightforward goal for his first official Spring Training start with the Pirates: Get in a game and get through it healthy.

Archer looked healthy and effective as he struck out four of the seven batters he faced during the Pirates’ 10-4 win on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium. He didn’t allow a hit and walked only one Orioles hitter, leadoff man Eric Young Jr., in his two innings on the mound. Archer felt strong after throwing 29 pitches.

“From a physical standpoint, zero issues,” Archer said. “That was really the key of today, to get back on the mound in a game situation and be healthy.”

Archer’s spot in the Opening Day rotation is already set. He will start the Pirates’ home opener on April 1. With offseason abdominal surgery in his rearview mirror, he and Pittsburgh’s coaching staff mapped out a plan for Spring Training with that date in mind.

It began with back-field and simulated-game work at Pirate City. The Pirates’ top four starters -- Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Joe Musgrove and Archer -- had only pitched in those controlled environments before Archer’s two-inning start on Tuesday. Archer built up his arm strength to handle a 40-pitch outing followed by strength coach Jim Malone’s running program. After that work, Archer said throwing 29 pitches in a game felt like “nothing.”

With his body in good shape, Archer can work on using his full arsenal like he did on Tuesday. Primarily a fastball/slider pitcher throughout his career, the 30-year-old right-hander reintroduced a two-seam fastball and a curveball midway through last season.

Last year, 41.7 percent of Archer’s pitches were sliders, according to Statcast. Another 37 percent were four-seam fastballs. He rounded out his arsenal with sinkers (10 percent), changeups (9.9 percent) and curveballs (1.4 percent). Four of Archer’s 29 pitches on Tuesday were curveballs, two of them for strikes, and he mixed in a few changeups as well. A more diverse pitch mix might help keep opposing hitters off his fastball and slider.

“It’s going to just help me overall be four-dimensional. For a long time, I was only two-dimensional,” Archer said. “Once I got here, guys encouraged me to use my whole arsenal. I did that at the end of last season and I did it today, and it feels great.”

Archer is sticking with another change he made late last season. After a rocky August, Archer ditched his windup and pitched exclusively from the stretch over six strong innings in Atlanta on Sept. 1. He put together a 2.70 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 30 innings over his final five starts of the season. Archer said on Tuesday that he will pitch out of the stretch all season.

“Just pick my leg up and throw instead of worrying about winding up,” he said. “I kind of broke it down and said, ‘Where’s most of my damage happening? Where am I missing my location the most?’ And it was out of the windup. I just killed it. I started that Sept. 1, and the results have spoken for themselves.”

The results were encouraging again on Tuesday. After a leadoff walk, Archer found his fastball command and struck out Jonathan Villar, Joey Rickard and Austin Hays in order. He struck out Steve Wilkerson to begin the second inning, then induced a pair of quick groundouts.

“He was lights out, just competing out there,” first baseman Josh Bell said. “It doesn’t count, but it definitely matters for him to go out there and throw zeroes up on the board and take steps in the direction that we need him to for us.”