Chris Archer wasn’t exactly kicking butts and taking names in his first relief appearance for the Tampa Bay Rays. The 32-year-old veteran gave up 3 runs, 4 hits in two innings of relief. It wasn’t the style of homecoming Archer had imagined.
Chris Archer picks up where he left off with the Pirates. Coming in for relief for TB, Archer gives up 2 runs.
— mike vukovcan (@mvukovcan) April 4, 2021
Then again, prior to Spring Training, where he looked fabulous while surrendering just one hit and one run in 6.2 innings pitched, Archer hadn’t pitched in a major league game since August 2019 with the Pirates.
To make matters worse, Archer is a starter, who came in to relieve fellow starter Rich Hill as part of some tandem starter experiment the innovative and sometimes annoying Tampa Bay Rays front office constructed.
It was a tough situation for anyone making his first start in almost two years. Especially a pitcher, as they tend to be very regimented in nature. The good news is that the rotation is expected to return to normal for Archer’s next start, so we will actually ignore his 13.50 ERA right now and see what he does going forward.
Long Road Back To Brilliance
When Archer was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018, he left Tampa Bay one year removed from an All-Star appearance and was still considered an arm on the rise at 29-years of age.
Three years later, after a disastrous, injury-plagued stint, he’s back in Tampa on an incentive-laden, one-year $6.5 million contract, struggling to hang on after 10 years in the show.
The reunion works. The Rays needed to add an arm to their shortened rotation. While Archer needed to turn back the hands of time.
Archer who played with the Rays from 2012 to 2018, missed the 2020 pandemic-shortened season while recovering from surgery to relieve neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome abnormalities. Thoracic outlet syndrome affects the space between the collarbone and first rib (thoracic outlet).
During the recovering process, the two-time all-star also contracted COVID-19 in August while training for his upcoming reunion with the Rays. Besides being stuck in a five-star hotel without a balcony to quarantine, Archer said the virus was not too debilitating.
It took him off the scene for a season, but nothing can hinder his charisma
“It was more the fact that I had to stay in a hotel room. If you own a home, you can go outside and get some Vitamin D which helps with your mood, but I was stuck in a room with no balcony,” Archer explained.
He jokingly added that he was living at the Four Seasons and how it was a five-star hotel but being isolated gives you an appreciation of the small things in life, like sticking your head outside of a window that barely opens.
“You get time to yourself. Either you get distracted, or you can reflect, but there are a lot of things that I can be grateful for,” Archer said.
“It felt good to be back,” said Archer. He added, “I haven’t been healthy and on a mound in a stadium, in that setting, in a long time. So, it was nice.”
When Archer takes the mound for his first start of the 2021 season, it will be for the same manager (Kevin Cash) who traded him in 2018 for current teammates Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and pitching prospect Shane Baz.
Home Is Where The Heat Is
His career has come full circle.
In over 200 career games, Archer is 60-80 with a 3.86 ERA, ranking fourth on Tampa’s career wins list with 54, third in innings pitched with 1,065, second in starts with 177, and second in strikeouts with 1,148.
Archer’s season-high in wins is 12, which came in 2015. The Clayton, North Carolina legend hasn’t had a winning season since, but he’s hoping to change that with the support of the American League champs behind him.
During the transitional phase from Tampa to Pittsburgh and now back to Tampa, new players, coaches and staff have emerged.
“It’s a nice balance as some of the younger guys have some admiration for me, but I have a lot of respect for what these guys have done these last two years,” Archer who went 6-12 in 33 starts with the struggling Pirates said.
He also expressed how good it felt to move around during spring training without GPS as familiarity brings comfortability. Comfortability breeds success and Archer is chilling as he’s returned to the scene of his greatest success, with more left in the tank.
MLB could use the “old” Chris Archer right now. A return to respectability and visibility by the two-time All-Star can help bridge the gap between the mound and the next generation of Black and brown pitchers coming through the pipeline. In Archer, they see a mirror image. Same swag. Same skin tone. Same dream.