MINNEAPOLIS -- When Chris Archer joined the Twins in the offseason, he did so with just 19 1/3 innings pitched in the previous two seasons. Often injured and increasingly ineffective on the mound, Archer came to Minnesota as a one-year flier with the team hoping there was still more left in the once top-end pitcher.
And while nobody will mistake present day Archer for the two-time All-Star that anchored the Rays' pitching staff through the mid-2010s, he’s fulfilled a new role as a stabilizing force in the back end of the Twins’ rotation.
The latest example? A one-hit, scoreless outing that propelled the Twins to a 6-0 win against the Rockies at Target Field on Saturday night. The performance lowered his ERA to 3.14. The last time Archer finished a season with an ERA under 4.00 was 2015.
“He’s getting as strong as he’s, I think, ever been or at least in recent history,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “This is what it looks like. He looks good, and he can go out there and win a game for you.”
That’s a credit to the organization’s plan, according to Archer. After struggling to stay on the field for any length of time over the last two seasons, the Twins’ objective of keeping Archer healthy for the whole year has been a success so far.
Saturday was Archer’s team-leading 14th start of the season. He has yet to miss an outing. It has required restraint from Archer and the coaching staff to understand there’s a long-term plan in place, and it will require caution, even when he’s pitching the way he was against Colorado.
“He’s going to be handled differently than everyone else, and we’re paying attention to it,” Baldelli said. “We’re doing our best to give him what he needs, and he’s giving us everything he’s got.”
Archer has continued to speak glowingly about Baldelli and the training staff for how they’ve managed him. The plan has been consistent since Spring Training, and it’s been executed well and allowed him to peak in June.
Saturday’s performance was Archer’s second in his last three starts in which he didn't allow an earned run, and he’s allowed one run or fewer in six of his last eight starts. The one hit allowed on Saturday was a season low. His ERA in June is 1.57, and he’s accumulated his only two wins of the season this month. Another encouraging sign: He’s been increasingly effective as the team slowly but surely stretches him out.
His three longest outings have come in June, albeit throwing only five innings each time.
But for Archer, that’s the new reality.
“I thought if I didn’t go seven, it was not a good outing,” said Archer, reflecting on his mindset earlier in his career. “But the game has changed, the circumstances of my body are different than they were eight years ago. So yeah, my expectation is a little different, but I always want to put up zeros. I always want to leave the game with the team having a chance to win.”
And he’s seemingly finishing those games stronger than he started. Archer touched 95 mph with his fastball twice on Saturday. They came on back-to-back pitches in his final inning. All five of his fastest pitches came in the final two innings. He finished the game with 78 pitches, one off his season high.
After allowing the Rockies’ lone hit of the night and a walk to open up the second inning, Archer induced two lineouts and struck out Elias Díaz to end the inning. He didn’t allow another runner the rest of the way, retiring his final 12 batters.
“At no point have I looked up and seen him really tailing off at those points in the game,” Baldelli said. “I haven’t seen a lot of that. I’ve seen him getting stronger in the outings to where he’s at.”
His stability has been a welcome sign for a Minnesota team that has shuffled starters in and out of the lineup. Joe Ryan and Dylan Bundy each missed several starts after testing positive for COVID-19. Chris Paddack started just five games before injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Both Sonny Gray and Bailey Ober have missed time with injury. Archer has been the one constant.
“What he’s doing, he’s being Chris,” Byron Buxton said. “Going out there, taking the ball every five days, giving it all he’s got -- it’s all you can ask for.”