MINNEAPOLIS — As the Twins and Dodgers tried to rush through an official game before the heavy rain and lightning was set to arrive at Target Field on Tuesday evening, Chris Archer brought some early electricity with his personality — and his rejuvenated stuff — as part of his Minnesota debut.
After pumping 91.8 mph right down the middle to Justin Turner to complete four scoreless innings, the veteran right-hander skipped off the mound, roaring in delight while pumping his fist into the air. He pounded his chest with his right arm as he reached the top step of the dugout, his dynamic energy matching the quality of his performance throughout his first taste of the 2022 season.
“I haven’t felt healthy in some time,” Archer said. “I had a lot of friends and family here. The team has done a good job of helping me understand what makes me great. [Pitching coach Wes Johnson] has instilled the utmost confidence in me. And it was just a moment where I was just, like, really excited.”
That energy fizzled in the eighth inning after the teams played through a thunderstorm and a combination of lost command and rough defense paved the way for a six-run frame for the Dodgers in an eventual 7-2 Twins loss that ultimately did end up interrupted for a one-hour, 28-minute delay by the rain.
Long before that, though, the four shutout innings of two-hit ball in which Archer didn’t issue a walk against this version of the Dodgers’ mega-lineup told a strong story. The fervor he brought to the field while doing so did, too.
At the end of his first inning, Archer twirled in triumph while pumping his first into his chest. He yelled into the air as he walked off the mound following the second inning. When Carlos Correa hit his second double of the day in the bottom of the fourth, Archer was at the dugout rail, excitedly jumping up and down while doing Correa’s “tapping the watch” celebration that the shortstop made famous last October.
Can you tell the 33-year-old was excited to be back on the mound at full strength?
“At times it’s been more suppressed,” Archer said. “But I think my first day, Wes was like, if I don’t see you being you, I’m gonna be pissed.”
“He shows his emotions,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You can say he wears them on his sleeve a little bit. … He’s not afraid to show you, and I think it’s great. I’m happy to see him in such a good place right now.”
It’s easy to understand in the context of his frustrating last two seasons, including a 2020 season missed following surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome and an injury-ridden ‘21 in which he was limited to 19 1/3 innings across six appearances due to persistent forearm and hip issues, which also caused his stuff to play down by several ticks.
The Twins took a shot on Archer late in Spring Training, needing to fill their fifth rotation spot, with the hope that his offseason of work with a physical therapist brought his stuff back up to where it was before those injuries struck.
Archer immediately touched 95 mph with his fastball in his first Spring Training start, and any questions about whether he could maintain that into the regular season were seemingly resolved when he came out in the first inning on Tuesday and topped out at 95.5 mph on the radar gun, already harder than any pitch he threw last season.
He says it’s the best he’s felt in two years. Baldelli was with the Rays when Archer had his peak as a youngster in Tampa Bay, and the skipper saw shades of that two-time All-Star on the mound on Tuesday.
“It resembles that guy very closely,” Baldelli said. “It puts a smile on my face watching him pitch the way he’s pitching right now, and we’re going to keep him going.”
Though the Twins’ pitching staff ultimately ended up losing its command (and the defensive prowess behind it) in that eighth inning, it’s also 2-for-2 in the last two days on strong debuts from veterans seeking bounceback seasons after Dylan Bundy twirled five scoreless innings and allowed one hit to the Mariners on Monday.
Any bullpen will have off days. The Twins can weather those more effectively if they can get strong starts from the less certain elements of their starting rotation — and Archer passed his first test.