PITTSBURGH -- After losing his fifth straight start last Sunday, Chris Archer vowed he would improve. “My next one could be a great one,” Archer said, “and it will be a great one.”
Archer’s final line wasn’t great, but his performance was undoubtedly better. And better was good enough considering the way the Pirates were hitting (and walking) against the Brewers on Friday night. Archer allowed four runs over seven efficient innings and picked up his first win since April 7 in the Bucs’ 9-4 victory over Milwaukee at PNC Park.
Archer completed seven innings for the second time this season, struck out seven and only walked two on the night. The 30-year-old right-hander entered the night with an 8.74 ERA in his last five starts, but his confidence never wavered during his personal losing skid. He knew he’d work his way out of it.
“I’ve been doing it for such a long time, even in the Minors. It hasn’t all been glitz and glamor. There’s an ebb and flow to a season, to a career,” Archer said. “Three or four starts is never going to get me down. I want to do better and be better, and I’m relentless. I’m not going to stop until I get the results that I’m looking for.”
Held back by high walk totals and long innings most of the month, Archer only threw more than 14 pitches in one inning on Friday night. The Brewers made him work in the fourth as Mike Moustakas doubled with two outs, Yasmani Grandal walked and Keston Hiura ripped a three-run homer into the center-field shrubbery.
"He threw a lot of strikes, so he was able to be efficient,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We scored four runs, but he was able to get deep into the game."
The fourth inning aside, this was the pitcher the Pirates envisioned when they acquired him from the Rays last July 31 for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and prospect Shane Baz.
“We’ve seen this from him before,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think he just got a fresh start tonight and went back to some basics. It started with the fastball command. He was aggressive with it and letting it rip.”
Archer recorded 10 outs on the ground. Working with backup catcher Jacob Stallings, he threw his two-seam and four-seam fastballs to both sides of the plate and made frequent use of an effective changeup. His early changeup usage set him up to use his slider for more whiffs later in the game. He also threw his curveball, rounding out a five-pitch mix.
“When he can do that,” Stallings said, “he’s so hard to hit.”
Archer and Stallings paired up twice in the bullpen in the days leading up to their first regular-season appearance together. Pitchers typically throw one side session between outings, but Archer wanted to get on the mound as often as possible.
Looking to improve his fastball execution, Archer threw nothing but fastballs to Stallings earlier this week in Cincinnati. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that Archer said he located most of his fastballs on Friday “right where I wanted them.”
“Anytime somebody struggles, you’re going to go back to the drawing board and see what adjustments you need to make,” Stallings said. “He has been struggling a little bit lately, and I just thought his fastball looked really good. I thought his mechanics looked really good in his ‘pen in Cincinnati. He was throwing his two-seam [fastball] to both sides of the plate, which we did tonight. … He did a great job keeping them off-balance.”
Archer’s night began and ended with outstanding defensive plays. Shortstop Kevin Newman made a strong play and leaping throw in the hole to retire leadoff man Lorenzo Cain, and right fielder Gregory Polanco finished the seventh with a sliding catch down the right-field line to send Cain back into the dugout.
As the crowd of 28,465 stood and applauded, Archer looked at the fans and pointed to Polanco as they walked into the dugout together.
“That was really special,” Archer said.
“We showed some good discipline. We forced [Chacin] to throw strikes, which he wasn’t able to do, which is very rare,” Hurdle said. “Marte’s at-bat was big, just to get something going again, to get some momentum. Newman and Polanco then Marte, then the walks unrolled after that. It was just fun to watch.”
Kela shut down
The Pirates will be without Opening Day setup man Keone Kela for a while longer.
The club announced on Friday that Kela, who has not pitched for Pittsburgh since May 4, returned from his rehabilitation assignment due to recurrent right shoulder discomfort. He will be shut down from throwing for approximately 10 days.
Kela made a rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis last Saturday, when he allowed three runs on three hits while recording one strikeout in the first inning. Kela threw 19 pitches in that outing, including 11 strikes, and served up one home run. Kela rejoined the Pirates on Monday in Cincinnati and threw a bullpen session on Thursday afternoon at PNC Park.
The Pirates acquired Kela, who has dealt with shoulder issues in the past, from the Rangers last July 31 in exchange for prospects Taylor Hearn and Sherten Apostel. The club shut down the right-hander early last September after he posted a 2.93 ERA and struck out 22 in 15 1/3 innings over 16 appearances for the Bucs.
The former closer put together a 4.63 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 14 appearances to begin the season. Hurdle shied away from using Kela on back-to-back days in April in an effort to get him on track.