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Hall of Famers, analysts try to diagnose struggles of Rays' Archer

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 11: Chris Archer #22 of the Tampa Bay Rays throws during the third inning of a game against the Houston Astros at Tropicana Field on June 11, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Published Jul. 20, 2016

DENVER — A popular topic of discussion around the Rays this season has been what's wrong with Chris Archer.

An All-Star last season who appeared on his way to ace status, Archer has been headed in a drastically different direction this year, leading the majors with 13 losses (and on pace for 20-plus) with an ERA that hasn't been under 4.00 since opening day.

Archer, slated to start today's matinee against the Rockies, insists he's healthy, mechanically sound and properly focused and motivated, that his struggles are not as bad as the numbers show and that his only problem is a lack of pitch execution — albeit on a troubling repeated basis.

But Hall of Fame pitchers Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz — armed with immense knowledge of pitching and impressive credentials — presented a segment on MLB Network detailing what they believe to be specific problems, primarily in Archer's delivery.

The biggest issue, Martinez said, is that Archer is taking his hand out of his glove too early, allowing hitters to get an early and longer look at the ball coming out of his hand than they should, thus having a better idea what is coming.

"To me it seems relatively simple the adjustment he has to make," Martinez said. "When you stop to look at him and you see where he separates the ball from his glove, it gives the batter a clear view of his hand. All they have to do is track his hands and know the location where he is delivering the pitch or see the rotation on the ball."

A related issue, that Smoltz and Martinez both noted, is that Archer is too open in facing the plate in his delivery, which also allows the hitters a better look and eliminates any deception.

"(He should) square off a little bit, like a 45-degree angle, so all the hitter can see is a short gap," Martinez said, also suggesting Archer could benefit by bringing his hands closer to his body.

Archer said he hadn't see the segment (posted on tampabay.com/blogs/rays), but — unconvincingly — said he might take a look.

"I'm not saying I'm pitching to my capability by any means, but to try and diagnose what's 'wrong' is a little critical," he said. "What I would say to something like that is what about the 130 people who struck out. … At the end of the day, it's pitch execution."

Manager Kevin Cash and pitching coach Jim Hickey agreed there were no mechanical issues causing his struggles, which include a .255 opponents' average (up from .220 last year) and 20 homers (compared to 19 total in 2015).

"I'm not saying whatever point they made, and I'm not sure exactly what it was, is invalid," Hickey said, "but I'm certain it has more to do with the quality of the pitch than it does the hitter seeing the ball better, or earlier, or whatever it was."

Plus, Cash said, "By what we look at, Archer is the same guy. It just boils down to execution."

Archer did pitch better in his last start, responding to a challenge by Cash to throw at least 70 percent strikes, which was a way to tell him to simplify his approach. Archer hit 67.6 percent — 71 of 105 — and felt it was a constructive process he plans to continue.

"Early on in the season I didn't have my normal command, and I feel so much better than I did early," he said. "For whatever reason, I don't know."

There's a lot no one seems to really know.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com.

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