Introspective Archer evolving into complete pitcher
Applying meditation and a strong work ethic, Rays righty purely dominant in July
ST. PETERSBURG -- David Price stood in front of his locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium wearing a T-shirt that read, "Got Stripes."
Underneath the description was a depiction of high baseball socks, like those worn by Chris Archer.
"Got stripes, because every day, he rocks the high pants," Price explained. "It's Arch's fan club on the back. I'm obviously a big fan of that fan club."
Arch is more than stripes. He's the total package.
Price first met Archer in 2008 while the two worked out at Vanderbilt, where Price attended school and pitched for the Commodores. After Archer came to the Rays as part of the trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs, Archer's Double-A Tennessee teammate, Ryan Flaherty -- also a Vanderbilt alum -- sent Price Archer's cell number.
"He told me, 'This is a good dude, just watch out for him,'" Price said. "And ever since then, I've talked to Arch."
Archer made an immediate impression on Price.
"From the first time I met him, I could tell he was raised the right way, that's a big part of it," Price said. "I could tell he had the work ethic -- the determination. He had that right mindset to want to continue to learn and grow in the game of baseball. That's what he does, he comes to the field every day to get his work in. He's a great teammate, he's a great person."
And one more thing: Archer is becoming quite a pitcher.
Heading into Friday night's contest against the Giants, the 24-year-old right-hander is riding a hot streak. He went 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA in July and allowed just 17 hits in five starts. Included in that impressive body of work are two shutouts in Archer's past three starts.
Along the way, there have been growth moments like the one in Toronto. After tossing a five-hit shutout against the Astros on July 14, Archer got into trouble in the sixth inning of his next start against the Blue Jays. Rays manager Joe Maddon let him stay in the game, which allowed Archer to escape the jam and pitch through the seventh. The rookie right-hander later expressed just what his manager's faith in him meant.
"It just shows the utmost confidence in me," Archer said. "... Everybody has known that I can do it. I just had to realize that I could do it."
Archer followed his outing against the Blue Jays with a two-hit shutout against the Yankees on Saturday, and he needed just 97 pitches to do so.
Thinking about things and taking time for introspection appeals to Archer, who is passionate about learning.
"He says a lot of stuff nobody else really understands," Price said. "... But that's just kind of the way he says things, and he uses bigger words because he reads a lot of books, and we don't all have the vocabulary Arch has."
Archer is currently reading "I Am: The Power of Discovering Who You Really Are" by Howard Falco. He hasn't so much been reading the book as he has been savoring it, taking time to jot notes in the margins as he reads. Archer's explanation is simple: He wants to absorb what he's reading and reflect on the words.
Alas, thinking too much can be a dangerous action for baseball players, since the game they play requires single-mindedness and focus. Random thoughts can serve as a distraction. Catcher Jose Lobaton smiled when asked if Archer overthinks.
"Yeah, he does that sometimes," Lobaton said. "I think some pitchers do that. Sometimes they're just thinking, thinking, thinking. Every time I go to the mound, I say, 'Stop thinking, just feel. What are you feeling in that moment? What is the pitch that you feel in your hand?'"
Archer allowed that trusting his stuff against Major League hitters has made him more aggressive in the strike zone, which has resulted in more strikes and lower pitch counts. Price marveled at how quickly Archer has grasped the strike zone.
"It is [crazy]," Price said. "It's just his work ethic and his determination and his mindset. That's what baseball is -- it's all mental. ... I feel like the mental side of baseball allows you to be able to execute pitches -- and that's what baseball is, it's all about executing pitches. When you have that right mentality, you believe you're going to execute that pitch, no matter how hard you throw or how nasty your stuff is. If you have the right mindset and the positive outlook before you throw that pitch, it allows you to be able to execute it."
Thus, Archer's journey toward finding the exalted land where he's resided in July also includes some interesting methods of preparation, such as meditation.
"I just close my eyes and go through all the hitters," Archer said. "Not really specifically the hitters. I do a third-person point of view, so I see myself executing a pitch. And I also see myself from a first-person point of view, where I'm actually inside my own body doing it and feeling it. So I see myself do it, then I actually do it.
"Because I read this book, and I found this to be true -- the more repetitions you get with your mind, the better off you're going to be, because your mind is sending the same message to your muscles as if you're actually doing it. So if I make 10 throws off the mound the day before, but I do 50 more throws in my head, I'm really doing 60 throws. It might not be true, but I found that it works for me, so I'm sticking to it."
Archer got a lesson in humility during his first year in the Rays' organization in 2011. Despite being named the 2010 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year, he had a repeat stint at the Double-A level in 2011. That situation put Archer in a negative place. He's since realized that wasn't a place where he wanted to be.
"I'd gotten above my skies and had to be knocked down," Archer said. "And I think that's what this journey's all about. Not just baseball, but life. So if I can learn patience through baseball and apply it to life, that's awesome. If I can learn humility through baseball and apply it to life, that's really what's most important to me. Everything happens for a reason. I feel like I was traded over here, obviously to win ballgames and help the team win, but to learn patience and humility for something I'm going to need to use it for in the future."
Price can be counted among the many enjoying Archer's success.
"There's not a better dude," Price said. "To see him have success is cool, because he's worked his tail off ever since he's been in pro ball, and this is when he's getting the results he's wanted to get at the big league level. It's good to see that."