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With Chris Archer added, Rays still looking for pitching

Plus, uncertainty is an issue, how Alex Cobb helped, Archer wants in on the fun and why Aaron Slegers was dealt.
Rays general manager Erik Neander, speaking on a Tuesday afternoon Zoom call, said the search for more pitching will continue even after signing Chris Archer.
Rays general manager Erik Neander, speaking on a Tuesday afternoon Zoom call, said the search for more pitching will continue even after signing Chris Archer. [ Times ]
Published Feb. 10

Here’s five more things Rays general manager Erik Neander and new/old Rays pitcher Chris Archer were talking about during Tuesday’s Zoom media calls announcing the 32-year-old right-hander’s return.

Adding more pitching

Though the Rays have signed Archer and Michael Wacha as free agents, acquired Luis Patino in trade and added several pitchers with big-league experience on minor-league deals, they are still looking for help on the mound after parting with top starters Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. And they are considering both trades and free-agent signings, seeking to find pitchers who can cover innings in different roles and are willing to do so.

“We’re still on the lookout for it,” Neander said. “It’s still something we feel is important. You have to find the right players with the right motivations and incentives to make it all work, because we don’t know exactly what we’re going to be up against and how it’s all going to fit together. I think we just recognize that we need a lot more innings. This (adding Archer) certainly helps, but we probably still need more innings to feel good about this thing and to make sure we’re not asking too much of any one individual person. But we also don’t know exactly what that looks like.

“To have to have people that are interested in coming in here. Wacha, Archer, these are guys that are motivated to use this season to really reestablish themselves. To get guys that are at that point in their career but also want to be there to help the team win and have some flexibility and how they want to go about doing that is huge to make this thing go. So we’re going to continue to look out for that in free agency and also by trade as well.”

One certainty in 2021 is uncertainty

Former Rays pitcher Blake Snell (4), bottom, greets teammates as he takes the field just prior to Game 6 of the World Series.
Former Rays pitcher Blake Snell (4), bottom, greets teammates as he takes the field just prior to Game 6 of the World Series. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

How pitchers will handle the increase back to a full-season workload after the challenges of the 2020 season, in which they ramped up for spring training, shut down halfway through for months, then got ready in a hurry for a shortened season, is a major question.

Another is how the schedule plays out in 2021 with the potential for games to be rescheduled due to COVID-19 issues. Which is part of the reason the Rays are trying to stock up on pitchers willing to help in any way.

“It’s that team-first, selfless nature that, frankly, we’re going to have from a lot of guys to get through the season — 162 (games) after we were lucky enough to play 80 last year as a group,” Neander said.

“This is going to be unprecedented; what disruptions, the doubleheaders, who knows what we’re truly going to be up against and having flexibility with your group and having them aligned and that goal of winning and doing whatever it takes is going to be huge.”

Help from a friend

Former Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, left, talks with Chris Archer (22) during a 2017 game.
Former Rays pitcher Alex Cobb, left, talks with Chris Archer (22) during a 2017 game.

Before surgery to deal with thoracic outlet syndrome, in which a portion of the first rib is removed to eliminate pressure on nerves, Archer consulted former Rays teammate Alex Cobb, who underwent the procedure in 2011. He also talked with former Pirates teammate Nick Burdi, who had it, too.

“Seeing Alex Cobb’s long-term success from that, and even the short-term, I was a teammate when he went back to Triple-A (after the surgery), so I saw Cobb recover fully from that,” Archer said.

“It didn’t bother me. I know there’s a little uncertainty around (the procedure) in the game, but the training staff with Pittsburgh, with Tampa’s great. They checked all their bases. They came out and saw me throw. They know where I’m at from a strength standpoint. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. My arm is more conditioned than it’s ever been. I started throwing sooner in the offseason. So in my opinion, that’s all behind me. They take out the first rib, they take the scalene muscle. There’s nothing that has to graft. You just have to build your strength back, and from a strength perspective I feel really, really good.”

Fun times

Rays shortstop Willy Adames, pictured during batting practice just prior to Game 5 of the World Series.
Rays shortstop Willy Adames, pictured during batting practice just prior to Game 5 of the World Series. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Archer could have been jealous, or even resentful, watching the Rays team that traded him in July 2018 roar through the American League playoffs and reach the World Series last year. Instead, he said he loved it.

“It was awesome,” he said. “One of my best friends I’ve developed in the game is Willy Adames. So for the world to see what he brings to a team, not just his baseball skill, (but), like, his personality, his demeanor. I was really just like a happy older brother watching him play.

“And then seeing (manager Kevin) Cash and (pitching coach Kyle) Snyder and Erik Neander get all their praise and love. With the manager of the year (award) and executive of the year, and if there was a pitching coach of the year I’m sure Snyder’s name will be in that conversation. You just see what he’s done with those stable of guys.

“It was really awesome to watch,” Archer continued. “I want to be a part of the fun. I want to be a part of the magic. And I’m really, really looking forward to getting in that locker room. I know what the goal is. When I was there in the past, we had different goals. But there’s only one goal, and that’s to win those two last games of the season. So I can’t wait to be a part of that.”

Aaron out

Former Rays rrelief pitcher Aaron Slegers (57) delivers a pitch during a 2020 game against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Former Rays rrelief pitcher Aaron Slegers (57) delivers a pitch during a 2020 game against the Toronto Blue Jays. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The Rays had to open a spot on the 40-man roster to add Archer, and Aaron Slegers was the one to go, traded late Monday to the Angels for a player to be named or cash. That Slegers is the kind of pitcher who can work innings in a variety of roles — in other words, what the Rays are looking for — made the decision tougher.

“We’ve talked all winter about the injuries to our pitching group that has us thin on the pitching side as it is,” Neander said. “We looked at a variety of possibilities for how to open up roster space to accommodate Archer.

“I wish I had a better explanation above and beyond that we just felt like that was the one that made the most sense out of a handful that were frankly pretty close for us. Wish Aaron nothing but the best with L.A. Think the world of him. The growth that he’s made over the last couple of years has been remarkable, and I expect him to continue to build on it as he moves forward.”