Garner Cleveland: Sports

Q&A: Clayton native Chris Archer looks back on a memorable run with the Rays

Tampa Bay pitcher and Clayton native Chris Archer addresses the crowd at a park dedication in Clayton on Nov. 3.
Tampa Bay pitcher and Clayton native Chris Archer addresses the crowd at a park dedication in Clayton on Nov. 3. DEAN STRICKLAND

Clayton native Chris Archer recently completed his second season in the major leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher went 9-7 with the Rays, making 23 starts during the regular season. He pitched two complete game shutouts, including one at Yankee Stadium against the Yankees. In the division series, He made two relief appearances, giving up one hit and striking out two.

He was back in his hometown recently helping at the dedication of East Clayton Community Park. Archer spoke with correspondent Mike Potter about the 2013 season and what’s to come.

Q. What do you enjoy most about coming home to Clayton?

A. A lot of things. Seeing my family (parents Ron and Donna Archer), my high school JV coach Ron Walker and my best friend Drew Hardee, who was a high school shortstop. I always looked up to him as like an older brother figure. I wasn’t making some of the best decisions early on in high school, and he helped keep me out of trouble.

Q. Will your off-season schedule be much different now that you’ll probably be on the big-league active roster?

A. It doesn’t at all.

Q. What pitches do you need to improve the most?

A. I’m working on solidifying my fastball command, always. It’s hit 99 on a gun and I’ve made a lot of leaps and bounds with it. I’m also trying to develop my changeup so I can use it more often, and keeping my slider sharp. Really, I’m working on everything constantly.

Q. How much different is pitching in the playoffs than the regular season?

A. It is different, but it’s just intensified. It’s intense when you’re pitching a regular-season game, but it’s more intense in the playoffs. You can let it overwhelm you and crumble, or you can thrive off of it, enhance yourself and elevate your game. Not in every situation, but overall looking back at any situation I’ve had in baseball or in life, usually the tougher the circumstances the more I prevail.

Q. So you don’t feel anything different when just about everybody in the baseball world is watching?

A. Not really. It’s a job, and I’ve prepared myself fully for my whole life to do it. I guess it’s like when (a reporter) interviews somebody he really wants to interview. You’re not nervous. You want that. And it’s the same with me. I want to be in that situation. I want to be in the limelight performing. You want to be in those situations because they’re so few and far between.

Q. Which batters do you fear most and why?

A. (Boston’s) Jacoby Ellsbury (3-for-4, .833 on-base percentage against Archer in 2013) and (the Angels’) Mike Trout (5-for-7) have always been tough on me. And of course David Ortiz (2-for-5, 3 RBIs) is always hard. Everybody in the big leagues is a battle, but Ellsbury and Trout for sure. They always get hits off me and I haven’t really figured out why.

Q. You were 3-0 against the New York Yankees, and Robinson Cano was 0-for-9 against you. How do you use prior success to make your game plans?

A. Just constantly studying video and remembering how they got out and how they got themselves out. There’s a lot of physical preparation, but of course a lot of mental preparation as well.

Q. What was it like being in Yankee Stadium on Mariano Rivera Tribute Day?

A. I didn’t talk to him in depth, but I told him ‘Thank you’ for everything he’s done for the game. It was memorable, because I always looked up to him growing up – not because of his awards but because of his demeanor and his humility. Just overall, he’s special and different. And he was the only one still wearing No. 42 after (Major League Baseball) retired Jackie Robinson’s number. They said he could wear it as long as he played, and he was a perfect representative of that number.

Q. What is your most memorable road venue and why?

A. I’d have to say Yankee Stadium. It’s like a cathedral when you walk in. It’s like, ‘Wow! Is this place real?’ And it’s completely new and updated.

Q. So was your most memorable outing there?

A. Yes. I threw a shutout (a two-hitter on July 27) on the biggest stage in baseball (Yankee Stadium). There are 40,000 people wanting you to not do well, and you can silence the whole crowd if you really do well.

Q. What are you most looking forward to for next season?

A. Just building off things I did last year, continuing to get better. Hoping to help the Rays get back into the playoffs and get deeper into the playoffs.