PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Everything points to a quick start for Chris Archer in 2017.The Rays' Opening Day starter kicked off Team USA's championship run in the World Baseball Classic with four perfect innings. And after returning to the Rays' camp, he's looked almost unhittable, his fastball in the 96-97
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Everything points to a quick start for Chris Archer in 2017.
The Rays' Opening Day starter kicked off Team USA's championship run in the World Baseball Classic with four perfect innings. And after returning to the Rays' camp, he's looked almost unhittable, his fastball in the 96-97 mph range, and his command being on target.
Based on last year, Archer's learned whatever one can learn from the adversity of losing 19 games in one season.
"You either win or you learn," Archer said. "And I learned 19 times last year."
Archer went through his final tuneup before Opening Day on Tuesday and looked as sharp as he has all spring.
"This is definitely the best I've felt in March, and hopefully it translates into a successful six months plus October," Archer said. ... "Yeah, I came in with a couple of goals and I think I've achieved those goals. And I'm looking forward to April 2 and kicking this thing off right."
When asked, Archer rattled off his spring goals.
"One pitch at a time," Archer said. "Not focusing on who's up next or who's on first, just focusing on executing each individual pitch. Using my changeup more. Being smart with my breaking ball and relying heavily on my fastball."
Rays manager Kevin Cash likes what he's seen of his ace this spring.
"This is year three of me being around him at spring and this is hands down the best I've seen him physically," Cash said. "And more importantly, mentally.
"I'm not going to sit and say what he learned and what he didn't learn from last year. I know he came in here in a good spot. Very motivated. And he has matured as a pitcher it seems like."
Though Archer finished with 19 losses, he improved in the second half. After going 4-12 with a 4.66 ERA prior to the All-Star break, he went 5-7 with a 3.25 after.
According to Statcast™, much of the improvement could be credited to his pitch selection. In the second half, he used his slider more.
Of the 30 home runs he surrendered in 2016, 17 came when he threw his four-seamer. Yet in the first half, he was only throwing his slider 37 percent of the time. In the second half, that jumped up to nearly 46 percent usage -- a big part of his success.
While he's pitching at the top of the rotation, Archer downplayed the designation as the No. 1 starter.
"No matter what, it's one pitch at a time," Archer said. "It's one step at a time with what I'm doing. It's not necessarily the first game or the last games. It's bullpens, it's when I'm playing catch. It's everything. The whole No. 1 starter thing, that's a label for the outside world. All I want to do is give my team a chance to win, period. I don't care if I'm considered a No. 1 or a No. 5. I just want to give the team a chance to win."
However, the right-hander does acknowledge the importance of the team getting off to a good start.
"It's huge," Archer said. "And I think it's going to be the difference, so we're not working uphill the entire season. The way our pitching has looked the past week or so, I'm very optimistic. I like the position players. I like the guys who have come in and have been added to the team thus far. So I'm really looking forward to April 2."
Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.