After hurling another strikeout, Chris Archer struts off the mound knowing that he plowed through those batters like he was the eastbound Amtrak train that just sped by the ballpark on its way to his hometown Raleigh. Head nodding and finger pointing to acknowledge his teammates' praise, he seems to be walking taller than his 6'3" frame after tying his career high in K's with 12 on the night.
The 23-year-old righty, who has pitched for four different teams in three different leagues over the last two seasons, has found a home in the Tampa Bay Rays organization and has raised eyebrows in Durham over the last month.
"He's making really good strides, I'm happy with the direction he's going," said Bulls pitching coach Neil Allen. "Right now I think his off-speed pitches are coming along very well, fastball command is still a work-in-progress at this point in time."
Archer's coach even went as far as to say the young pitcher is going to be "something special" and stating that "he has a bright future ahead of him, but right now, do I think that he's ready to be a bona fide every-fifth-day major league pitcher? The capabilities are there, but when that time is going to come I don't know—but once he does arrive he is going to be there for many, many years."
In 10 starts for the Bulls this year, Archer is 3-5 with a 4.96 ERA and an International League- best 61 strikeouts. But his stuff goes beyond his stat line and into the confident composure that he carries in the clubhouse even after a huge game like he had against Norfolk on Thursday.
Asked to assess the first inning of that game in which the bases were loaded with one out, Archer said "it was like, ‘I know I'm good,' there was no doubt the whole time. If I make pitches these guys behind me are going to get me a double play or throw somebody out, and then I ended up striking out the last two batters. I walked a guy and I hit a guy, but I didn't lose confidence."
That confidence has been forged after six years of work in the minors, and going winless in his first six starts as a minor-league pitcher. While the velocity and deception of his arsenal has come along nicely, the detriment of an ERA of 9.26 with runners on reveals the fact that he might still be raw.
"That's his key, is to be consistent," said Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo. "When he throws good he's a big-leaguer. But he's a young kid so we got to get there where he stays consistent— he's got a great arm."
Archer recognizes there's work left to be done and progress still to be made, citing instruction from Coach Allen as a helpful factor in developing his game.
"I feel like I've come a long way, even dating back to spring training. Neil [Allen, pitching coach] and I have been working on commanding my fastball and throwing my off-speed for strikes. But obviously I want to be more consistent, so it's all a work in progress at this point."
With some patience and some more dumbfounding, strikeout-inducing pitches, the Triangle's talented young righty should be able to get that train-like dependability and hop aboard the big league express.
Ben Christoph is the Durham beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @btchristoph
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