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3 reasons things will be different for Archer in '20

@adamdberry
February 10, 2020

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Chris Archer reported to Spring Training on Monday with a new look. He trimmed his trademark dreadlocks last week, returning to a style more like the one he sported as a Rays rookie in 2013. Archer joked that he now feels light-headed, “in a good way.”

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Chris Archer reported to Spring Training on Monday with a new look. He trimmed his trademark dreadlocks last week, returning to a style more like the one he sported as a Rays rookie in 2013. Archer joked that he now feels light-headed, “in a good way.”

The more important thing might be how Archer feels physically -- and how he feels about himself on the mound -- at the outset of a new season.

It is no secret that Archer’s tenure in Pittsburgh has not gone according to plan. A durable pitcher his entire career, he’s been limited to 33 starts since July 31, 2018. Acquired to be a top-of-the-rotation difference-maker, Archer owns a 6-12 record and 4.92 ERA in 172 innings for the Pirates.

But after working out at Pirate City on Monday, the 31-year-old right-hander promised that fans did not see the real Chris Archer last season.

“I don't want to say a whole lot. I just want to go out there and show people,” Archer said. “I feel like I'm in a really good spot. I know myself, and I know there's more room to grow. I'm going to tinker with that in spring, but it's going to be a much better version of myself than it was last year, for sure."

Let’s break down the new Archer in three different categories: health, pitching and -- why not -- hair.

Health

Archer refuses to use injuries as an excuse for his drop-off the last two years, but there is no denying the impact they had on the formerly healthy pitcher.

In June 2018, Archer went on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a left abdominal strain. He returned to the mound a month later, but there were clearly still issues, as he missed his final start of the season with what the Pirates called “continued discomfort of a left groin strain.” Two months later, he underwent surgery to repair a bilateral hernia.

Archer was ready in time to start Spring Training last year, but there were lingering side effects. He went on the injured list twice and finished the season on the shelf with right shoulder inflammation.

Archer said Monday that he recovered in time for only two weeks of strength training last offseason. This year, he estimated he spent 15 weeks preparing his body for the season. Most of that work took place under the watch of Zach Ray, the founder and president of the Live Athletics physical therapy and performance center in Westlake Village, Calif.

“The deficiencies I had in my body, we were able to address that through the strength program,” Archer said. “You know, I finished the season on the DL. I was battling different hip and groin things the last two seasons. We were able to set a really solid foundation then build on top of that. I feel really good about where I’m at.”

Pitching

Despite the unappealing surface-level statistics, Archer’s second half was somewhat encouraging. He struck out nearly 31 percent of the batters he faced and walked only 7.9 percent. Opponents hit just .249 against him despite a .333 average on balls in play. His FIP was 3.29, more like the old Archer.

The key, Archer said, was that he “went back to just being myself.” He reincorporated his windup. Working with catcher Jacob Stallings, he ditched his two-seam fastball in favor of four-seamers and sliders. He expects to further his refinement under the guidance of Oscar Marin, the new pitching coach, who is described by Archer as “an old-school mind but a new-school brain.”

“The conversations I had with Oscar really helped me understand why I was successful in the second half of the season, and not just, 'Oh, I was good. I'll keep doing that.' But, doing what?” Archer said. “Whenever he breaks it down, it's like, 'Hey, whatever happened, this is what you were doing, so let's sharpen that. Whether it's a fastball in a certain location or a slider in a certain location or in a certain count, you know that now.'"

Hair

No, this isn’t symbolic of a fresh start or anything like that. After five years of growing out his dreadlocks, Archer just wanted to cut his hair. One morning, he woke up and texted his barber to stop by his place and bring the shears. A couple hours later, it was done.

“Some people like it. Some people don’t. But I like it,” Archer said. “That’s really all that matters. When I look in the mirror, I like it.”

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.