PITTSBURGH -- Sitting in his office on Wednesday afternoon, Clint Hurdle thought back to the Trade Deadline afternoon the Pirates acquired Chris Archer. It was a thrilling day for a club that had surged back into the postseason picture. The Bucs have since fell behind and eventually out of the
PITTSBURGH -- Sitting in his office on Wednesday afternoon, Clint Hurdle thought back to the Trade Deadline afternoon the Pirates acquired Chris Archer. It was a thrilling day for a club that had surged back into the postseason picture. The Bucs have since fell behind and eventually out of the race, but Hurdle isn't any less enthused now about having Archer on board.
"Actually," Hurdle said, "probably a little bit more so."
Hours later, Archer offered a reminder of his ability in his best start for Pittsburgh. The right-hander struck out eight over seven efficient innings as the Pirates pulled out their fifth straight win, a 2-1 victory over the Royals at PNC Park.
It was Archer's longest start for the Pirates and only his third seven-inning outing of the season. He allowed six hits and walked only one batter. Pittsburgh's defense helped shorten several innings for him, but Archer's efficiency also improved as the night went on. He needed only 36 pitches to finish his final four innings.
"The one thing I hang my hat on is making starts and pitching deep into ballgames," Archer said. "I've given up way more runs than I wanted to this year, but the thing that frustrates me the most is my average innings. It has to be the lowest of my career. But there's a correlation. The better you pitch, the deeper you pitch into games."
Acquired on July 31 for talented youngsters Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Shane Baz, Archer put together a 5.49 ERA over his first eight starts for the Pirates. Two of his last three outings were quality starts, but Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington noted that Archer wasn't getting away with any mistakes.
"I know he's not pleased with the results at this point in time," Huntington said on Sunday. "But we still see the pitcher that we acquired and are optimistic that he's going to be a really good Major League pitcher for years to come."
Archer was at his best against the rebuilding Royals. He threw his fastball for strikes. He leaned on his devastating slider when he needed a swinging strike. He had perhaps his best changeup in six weeks, calling the pitch a "neutralizer" against the Royals' left-handed hitters the third time he faced Raul Mondesi, Alex Gordon and Ryan O'Hearn.
"That's a nice trifecta," Hurdle said.
Archer's defense had his back the entire night, too. Rookie right fielder Pablo Reyes made an outstanding diving catch to rob Whit Merrifield of a hit in the third. Adam Frazier, who hit the tiebreaking homer in the fifth, turned a double play in the fourth. Catcher Francisco Cervelli cut down Merrifield at third base in the fifth. Shortstop Kevin Newman and Frazier teamed up for an inning-ending double play in the seventh.
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"That was pretty much the difference in the game. It allowed me to stay in a few hitters longer, get a couple more outs than I probably would have," Archer said. "When the defense is playing like that behind you, it encourages you to be over the plate more because you know they've got your back."
Offensively, the Pirates saw encouraging signs from Corey Dickerson, who doubled twice and scored the game's first run on a sacrifice fly by Colin Moran, and Frazier continued his second-half tear. Starling Marte and Josh Bell contributed two hits apiece.
But as the Pirates look forward to 2019, they can see the foundation of a strong rotation. Archer said the depth of their starting staff and bullpen should make them competitive next year. Their hopes of contending are built around their pitching. It's a lot easier to believe when Archer pitches the way he did on Wednesday.
"It's fun to be a part of," Archer said. "I don't want to turn the page too quick, because we still have some work to do in 2018, but from what we've learned this season, next year is going to be a really positive one for us."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Out goes Frazier: There is no secret to Frazier's success since returning from Triple-A on July 25. He lowered his hands, rediscovered his timing and got back to hitting the way he always has -- in this case, with a .320/.372/.553 slash line in his last 46 games. But where has the power come from?
Frazier's solo shot to right-center off rookie Heath Fillmyer was his ninth of the season, one more than he hit during 614 plate appearances from 2016-17 and three times as many as he hit over 1,670 plate appearances in the Minors. Even more impressive, he's boosted his power without losing his high average, all-fields approach.
"He's done some good hunting in situations," Hurdle said. "He's becoming more experienced, gaining more experience on when to try to ambush some pitches. Two-strike approach still comes into play. He's still moving the ball around the field."
Rookie reliever Richard Rodriguez worked a scoreless eighth inning before Felipe Vazquez picked up his 35th save in the ninth. Rodriguez leads all National League rookie relievers with 84 strikeouts, tied for the Pittsburgh club record for a rookie reliever. Blas Minor also struck out 84 in 1993.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Reyes played five positions for Triple-A Indianapolis this season, but never right field. You wouldn't know it by watching him the past two nights.
A game after cutting down a run at the plate, Reyes made a spectacular diving play to begin the third inning. According to Statcast™, the rookie had only a 4 percent chance of catching Merrifield's line drive as he had to cover 41 feet in 2.9 seconds. In the dugout, Hurdle joked with Indianapolis manager Brian Esposito that he'd been playing the versatile Reyes out of position all season.
"I'm just watching," Hurdle said, smiling as he clapped his hands during his postgame news conference. "Staying out of the way and saying, 'Good job, Pablo.'"
HE SAID IT
"We're all pleased. You play the game to win the game, and the games matter. They matter from Game 1 to Game 150 to Game 151. There's nobody that suits up and wants to go out and not play well. There's not a coach that wants to go out there and not coach well. However, you've got to execute and do things to win. It doesn't matter who you are playing."-- Hurdle, on the Pirates winning five straight and 11 of their last 14 games
After an off-day at home on Thursday, the Pirates will wrap up their home slate with a three-game weekend series against the postseason hopeful Brewers. Right-hander Ivan Nova (9-9, 4.07 ERA) will start the opener on Friday night at PNC Park, lining up against Brewers righty Jhoulys Chacin (14-8, 3.54). First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.