PORT CHARLOTTE — In some cases, it's exactly what a manager doesn't want to hear, a young player talking about approaching spring training differently because his place on the team is secure and he doesn't have anything to prove.
But not when Chris Archer says it.
"I think he's accountable enough that he's saying it within the right spirit of that phrase, and there's no complacency intended or felt on his part," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I just think that he's looking at it pragmatically — 'Listen, I know I'm on the team now and I can work on other things' — which I think in his mind's eye can make him even better this year.
"If it came from somebody else and I didn't feel that strongly about their accountability and the way they were, that might bother me a little bit. But from him it does not."
Archer, 25, takes that approach to the mound for the first time this spring today, against the Red Sox in Fort Myers, with a specific sequenced agenda.
First, to get re-acclimated to game speed and conditions. Then, refining command of his fastball, further developing his changeup and getting through the 30-or-so pitch exercise healthy.
Nowhere on that list is posting zeroes or opening eyes, a luxury Archer figures he has never had in eight previous seasons of pro ball.
"I can finally go through spring and not feel like I have to completely impress everybody," Archer said.
That is the reward of impressing as much as he did last season, when — after a spring in which he didn't allow an earned run — Archer went 9-7 in 23 starts with a pair of shutouts and a 3.22 ERA that was the third lowest for an American League rookie (minimum 20 starts) in the past 20 years.
The change in approach can be defined simply by adding a few letters, Archer saying that rather than trying to prove himself, he's working to improve. "Constantly," he said.
The Rays identify areas for improvement and lay it out during a meeting at the start of camp, so Maddon was pleased to hear Archer talking about his changeup and fastball command.
"Beautiful," Maddon said. "He's right on. He listened. That's exactly right. And that's great if he can go out there and know that if he gives up a couple runs or throws a changeup and gets into a bad count because he's working on it, that's not going to negatively impact how we feel about him. Which we wouldn't have anyway, but now that he knows that, he has a much better chance of developing that changeup."
Once Archer gets comfortable and confident enough to mix in the changeup more frequently with his slider, repetitions should take care of the rest. That's how it worked for Rays ace David Price early in his career, and Maddon had no pause in drawing comparisons.
"The fastball command is just going to come with more experience, even better breathing on the mound, even more comfort on the mound — not unlike David," Maddon said, noting how Price had issues through his 2008 debut and early 2009 when he started in the minors.
"Now you look at him, my God, this guy could dot the gnat's behind at any time," Maddon said. "That's because of the progression that he's worked. And I think Archie can do the same from the right side."
Price sees it himself.
"There's a lot of pitchers in the league that don't have his stuff or don't have his ability out there on the mound," Price said. "And for him to have his stuff and ability, on top of his work ethic and his just 'want' to get better and 'want' to learn and grow in the game of baseball, for a guy like that, the sky's the limit."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.