Price's impact on Archer has rookie dominating
Right-hander won fourth straight with shutout of Yankees in Bronx
It's not one thing with Chris Archer. It's never that simple. It's confidence. It's trusting his stuff and controlling his emotions. It's some basic mechanical adjustments, too.
Let's begin there. When the 24-year-old rookie right-hander was struggling early in the season, Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey compared two years of Archer video. Something jumped out.
"He wasn't following through with his landing foot," Hickey said.
Maybe that explained why he had a drop in velocity and command. So they went to work in the bullpen. Hickey drew a line near the front of the mound and told Archer to aim for that spot. To say everything was repaired wouldn't be accurate.
Again, it was a dozen different things. David Price did wonders for his confidence. Archer has idolized Price and worked out with him at Vanderbilt. Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson played roles, too. Starting rotations share information and feed off each other's energy and success.
We may never know everything that went into getting things to fall into place. Archer might not even be able to answer it all himself.
"Everybody has known I could do it," Archer told Rays broadcaster Todd Kalas on Saturday afternoon. "I just had to realize I could do it."
He spoke those words minutes after pitching another near-perfect game, a two-hit, 1-0 shutout victory at Yankee Stadium. He needed just 97 pitches to do it. His fastball was clocked at 97 mph for a lot of the afternoon, and he had such terrific command that he went to a three-ball count only twice the entire day.
His slider was even better. He was throwing it at 87 mph, and it comes with the arm speed of his heater and the breaking action of a curveball. Whatever it does, it's pretty close to unhittable.
So is Archer. In his last five starts, he's 4-0 with a 0.73 ERA and has found himself a home in baseball's best starting rotation.
And he is now the first rookie to throw a 1-0 shutout at Yankee Stadium since Milwaukee's Teddy Higuera did it in 1985 and the first rookie to throw any shutout in the Bronx since Baltimore's Arthur Rhodes in '92.
The Rays are 21-3 since June 29 and have gone from seven games out of first place in the American League East to alone at the top. In that time, the Rays rotation is 17-3 with a 2.01 ERA. Those starters have gone at least seven innings a dozen times in this stretch and nine innings six times.
Since June 19, the Rays are 24-1 in games started by Price, Moore, Hellickson and Archer. And Alex Cobb, who was pitching as well as any of them, should return from the disabled list next month.
Combine that pitching with a great defense and what manager Joe Maddon calls a "swarming offense," and this team has become a thing of beauty to watch.
Archer has allowed one earned run in 31 innings. Along the way, he has earned the trust of manager Joe Maddon and his teammates.
When he finished Saturday afternoon, Price was the first player out of the dugout to shake his hand.
"I'm just following your lead," Archer told Price.
Archer said it went deeper than that.
"I look up to him as the big brother I never had," Archer told Kalas.
He has taken a roundabout path to this point. The Indians took him in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Two years later, he was in a deal in which the Indians acquired infielder Mark DeRosa. The Rays got him in the 2011 trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs.
He made his Major League debut last summer, but it wasn't pretty. He had great stuff, but he was all over the place with his command. At times, he let his emotions get the best of him. He had some of those same problems in the Minor Leagues, but the Rays stayed with him because the potential to do great things was there.
Price's influence can't be underestimated. At times this season, Price has struggled. But his poise and body language and preparation are always pretty much the same. Since coming off the disabled list earlier this month, Price has looked like the same guy who won the AL Cy Young Award last season.
As Archer said, he's following Price's lead. He's doing it with some of the same skill set, and they're part of the reason the Rays are riding an incredible wave.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.