Why Rays ace Chris Archer is looking a lot more like himself this season

You don’t need to be a major league pitcher, a major league coach or even a hardcore baseball fan to understand this simple truth: For a pitcher, giving up home runs is bad.

If you’re an otherwise good pitcher — like Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays, who is one of the best strikeout artists in the majors — giving up homers can torpedo all the rest of the good. That’s what troubled Archer in his underwhelming 2016 season, in which he had a career-high 4.02 ERA and a 9-19 record across 33 starts.

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This season, Archer looks much more like the guy who’s often projected as a Cy Young candidate. It’s a small sample, sure, but Archer is 2-0 in three starts with a 2.21 ERA and 18 Ks, which puts him among the top 25 pitchers in the game. One big difference? Homers. Archer hasn’t allowed one yet. Last year, Archer gave up a career-high 30, which tied for ninth-most in the MLB.

Let’s all see if Archer can keep up the homer-free outings as his Rays host the Detroit Tigers in the Free MLB Game of the Day on Yahoo Sports. You can stream the game for free on our MLB page, the Free Game of the Day tab or right here in this very post once first pitch rolls around at 7:10 p.m. ET. Local blackouts apply per MLB’s rules.

Chris Archer has been great for the Rays in this young season. (Getty Images)
Chris Archer has been great for the Rays in this young season. (Getty Images)

Archer is the most important element to a Rays team that looked like it could go either way at season’s start. They’ve got some exciting young players and a pitching staff that could be sneaky good. But all that only materializes if Archer is at his best.

So far, he has been. Manager Kevin Cash told reporters on Tuesday:

“He’s been in a good spot,” Cash said. “I don’t know if he’s found a different gear or not. But he’s been in a very good spot early on this year. He’s been efficient with his pitches. He’s gotten a lot of big outs in some crucial situations in the game.”

Archer threw seven complete innings in his opening-day start, then went into the eighth in his second start. He didn’t get past the sixth in his third start, but the Rays won 10-5 against the Red Sox, so going deep into the game wasn’t as essential.

More important for Archer is avoiding homers and walks. He’s often been a pitcher who walks a few batters and, consequently, sees his pitch count get high early. He’s walked just six hitters so far this young season, which gives him a BB/9 rate that matches the lowest of his career (2.66).

It’s early, of course, but seeing Archer look like his best self is not only good for the Rays, it makes for great viewing for baseball fans.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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