ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Chris Archer is not shy about being different.
The Tampa Bay Rays’ 24-year-old right-hander has set himself apart with his performance, taking the mound Friday night at Tropicana Field while coming off last week’s complete-game shutout at Yankee Stadium. His 4-0 record and 0.73 earned-run average in July ranks as one of the best months by a rookie in modern major league history.
But with Archer, there is so much more to the story.
Such as the way Archer, a voracious reader, speaks openly, eloquently and with an extensive vocabulary in a clubhouse that so often is filled with clichés and banalities. It’s a dream for reporters, though a challenge for teammates.
“He says a lot of stuff nobody else really understands or can grasp the point of what he’s trying to get across,” said teammate David Price, who, by the way, attended Vanderbilt. “But that’s just because kind of the way he says things, he uses bigger words because he reads a lot of books. We don’t all have the vocabulary Arch has.”
Archer, who was promoted June 1, prepares for each start by throwing 10 pitches off the mound the day before. That night, he immerses himself in meditation and visualization techniques.
“I just close my eyes and go through all the hitters,” Archer said. “Not really specifically the hitters, but I do a third-person point of view, so I see myself executing a pitch. And I also do 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.”
While most pitchers do no more than play catch on the eve of a start, Archer feels much more comfortable with a routine that includes a brief session on the mound.
“I read this book, and I found it 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,” he said. “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.”
On the mound, Archer shows emotion that is devoid in or suppressed by many others. (He also sets himself apart by wearing his pants high with old-school striped stirrups.)
“Sometimes, I get too excited,” he said. “But their big thing here is, ‘Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself.’ That’s just me being me.”
While there has been some veiled criticism, including when Archer fist-pumped and jumped after striking out Boston’s Daniel Nava with the bases loaded June 12, others like what they’ve seen.
That includes David Cone, the 194-game winner who does television work for the Yankees. He sought out Archer the day after his shutout against New York.
“I like the bounce in his step,” Cone said. “A little presence, a little cockiness, but in a good way. I like to see a young pitcher like that that’s building confidence and has good body language. To me that’s refreshing, and that’s why I went down (on the field) to tell him.
“You’ve got to love the energy and enthusiasm he has. There’s a fine line between coming off cocky for a rookie and being confident, and I think he’s fine. I’m a fan.”