ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer is not shy about being different.
The Rays' 24-year-old right-hander has set himself apart with his performance, taking the mound at the Trop tonight coming off a complete-game shutout at Yankee Stadium and a 4-0, 0.73 ERA in July that ranks as one of the best months by a rookie in modern history.
But with Archer there is so much more to the story.
Such as the way Archer, a voracious reader, speaks openly, eloquently and with an extensive vocabulary in a clubhouse that so often is filled with cliches and banalities, a dream for reporters, though a challenge for teammates.
"He says a lot of stuff nobody else really understands or can grasp the point of what he's trying to get across," said teammate David Price, who, by the way, attended Vanderbilt. "But that's just because kind of the way he says things. He uses bigger words because he reads a lot of books. We don't all have the vocabulary Arch has."
And the way he prepares for each start, throwing 10 pitches off the mound the day before and then immersing himself that night in meditation and visualization techniques.
"I just close my eyes and go through all the hitters," Archer explained. "Not really specifically the hitters, but I do a third-person point of view, so I see myself executing a pitch. And I also do a first-person point of view, where I'm actually inside my own body doing it and feeling it. So I see myself do it, then I actually do it."
While most pitchers do no more than play catch on the eve of a start, Archer feels much more comfortable with a routine that includes a brief session on the mound.
"I read this book, and I found it to be true: The more repetitions you get with your mind, the better off you're going to be, because your mind is sending the same message to your muscles as if you're actually doing it," he said. "So, if I make 10 throws off the mound the day before, but I do 50 more throws in my head, I'm really doing 60 throws. It might not be true, but I found that it works for me so I'm sticking to it."
And the way he handles himself on the mound, showing energy, enthusiasm and emotion that is devoid in or suppressed by many others. (And also setting himself apart by wearing his pants high with old-school striped stirrups.)
"Sometimes, I get too excited," Archer admits. "But their big thing here is: 'Be Yourself, Be Yourself, Be Yourself.' That's just me being me."
Whether it's as simple as the way he points to an infield popup or as intense as his reaction to an inning-ending out, Archer makes it obvious how much he is into what he's doing.
While there has been some veiled criticism, such as after Archer fist-pumped and jumped after striking out Boston's Daniel Nava with the bases loaded in the third start following his June 1 promotion, others like what they've seen.
That includes David Cone, the 194-game winner who does TV work for the Yankees and sought Archer out the day after his masterpiece to tell him so.
"I like the bounce in his step," Cone said. "A little presence, a little cockiness, but in a good way. I like to see a young pitcher like that that's building confidence and has good body language. To me that's refreshing, and that's why I went down (on the field) to tell him. You've got to love the energy and enthusiasm he has. There's a fine line between coming off cocky for a rookie and being confident, and I think he's fine. I'm a fan."
Archer was honored just to talk with Cone, and also former All-Star pitcher and current ESPN analyst Curt Schilling, whom he approached at Fenway Park, and exchanged kind words.
Similarly with the friendship and mentorship he has received from Price, who first reached out in 2008 when Archer was an unheralded minor-leaguer who happened to be working out at Vanderbilt and now has made him his protege.
"From the first time I met him, you could tell he was raised the right way, and that's a big part of it," said Price, who sports an Archer-themed "Got Stripes?" T-shirt. "I could tell he had the work ethic, he had the determination, he had the right mind-set to want to continue to learn and grow in the game of baseball. And that's what he does."
Even better that he's different than all the rest.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]abay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tbtimes_rays.