DK'S GRIND

Kovacevic: Archer takes control of all he can ☕

The reeling Pirates lost again to the Cardinals, 6-2, Friday night at Busch Stadium, but Chris Archer looked terrific.

The Cardinals' Matt Wieters strokes an RBI single in the fourth inning Friday night in St. Louis. - AP

ST. LOUIS — Fire everyone.

Yeah, the Pirates lost yet again, 6-2 to the Cardinals on this Friday night. This time, it came on Richard Rodriguez giving up his first home run since late May, a late defensive blunder by Kevin Newman and an offense that’s dried up far too soon. And that put this latest losing streak at six games, the record since the All-Star break at 4-22 and the overall record at a season-worst 19 games under .500 at 48-67.

As I was saying: Fire everyone. I mean it. All of them.

And if the franchise’s owner could fire himself, too, there are plenty of folks willing to provide the mirror.

That said, here’s hoping no one minds this rather riveting digression: Chris Archer is, at long last, beginning to look like the pitcher everyone was so pumped to get in that trade.

“That’s how it feels, man. It really does,” he was telling me at his stall after a line of six innings, two runs, seven hits, nine strikeouts and no walks. “I know it’s taken a while, and it’s kind of tough to explain why, but I feel physically just so good right now. And when you feel like that, when you have the kind of stuff that results from that, you feel like you can do anything.”

Flash back two starts ago, to July 28 in New York. He came out “tentative,” to borrow his own term when I asked him about it there, and allowed the Mets to smack him around for six runs in a 48-pitch first inning. After which, even more strikingly, he then put up five zeroes with equivalent pushback.

Now flash back to the first inning of this game. The Cardinals rapped out three hits on his first four pitches. Bases were loaded before the first flip of the resin bag.

Another New York?

Hardly. He locked up Marcell Ozuna for a 6-4-3 that brought home one happily conceded run …

… then smoked 95.5-mph heat past Paul DeJong:

And trust me, neither at-bat was remotely competitive. One of Ozuna’s swings, in particular, was so late he might have been hit with a fee.

Why?

I shared with Archer my observation from above that he appeared to pitch with more conviction, and he took slight exception to that.

“Not this time. This wasn’t New York,” he replied. “I’d say everything from pitch one out here came with conviction. And actually, that started out in the bulllpen, with the way everything was coming out of my hand. I knew I’d have stuff. And I never doubted that through any of those three hits.”

And so, those next two guys never stood a chance?

“That happens sometimes,” he came back with a slight smile.

I hadn’t written this way about Archer since his arrival. But then, I hadn’t seen him consistently pump a fastball at 97 mph, moving it where he wanted, coupled with a revitalized slider that seems to get crisper with each start. I hadn’t seen it this season. I hadn’t seen it last season. I hadn’t seen it anywhere other than footage from his All-Star days with the Rays.

Clint Hurdle sounded a similar note, saying, “It’s something I hadn’t seen very often,” stressing especially the command: Archer threw 19 first-pitch strikes to his 24 batters, reached only three three-ball counts and, to repeat, walked no one.

“Man, was he good,” Hurdle continued. “The swing-and-miss stuff, the fastball command, the slider going to work, and he threw some changeups to left-handed hitters. So solid. Just so solid.”

I could see the visitors’ dugout standing at the edge of the railing for some of Archer’s work, visibly geeked up when he blew 95.4-mph heat by Jose Martinez to quash a rally in the St. Louis fourth.

“It’s energizing,” Hurdle answered my question on that subject. “He can bring that. He’s brought it at times. He’s talked about needing to create that every time he’s out there. Well, he created it tonight and kept it going.”

Mind you, this is hardly some full-blown statistical trend. Since that first inning in New York, he’s pitched very well, with three total runs allowed over 15 innings. But he’s also held opponents to three or fewer runs in five of the six starts before New York.

Again, why?

“It’s hard to say,” he began. “I can say this: My body has felt, the past 6-8 weeks, a lot better than it did the first 6-8 weeks. I don’t know why. I can’t really put my finger on it. … It’s pretty apparent that this is a different person pitching now than the first 6-8 weeks. There’s raw stuff. There’s been execution. It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s been much better.”

I’ve been critical of Archer. I’ve been terribly critical of the trade. Unapologetically on both counts. Neal Huntington was stripped to the bone by Tampa Bay’s management in giving up Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows and first-round pitching prospect Shane Baz for Archer. Experts far and wide have panned it as one of Major League Baseball’s worst trades in recent memory.

But all through that, going to the day of the trade, I’ve also maintained that the Pirates didn’t need to win the trade as much as they needed …

“The best Chris Archer.”

Yeah, I was sharing that very thought with Archer after this game, and he completed the sentence.

“I know that,” he proceeded. “And that’s all I can be. I can go out there and lay it all out there for my team, from the first pitch, and I can keep working to get better. That’s in my control.”

• Rodriguez had been scored upon once in his previous 27 appearances, so, naturally, with how things are going for the Pirates, he was bound to get dragged down, too.

With a 2-2 tie entering the St. Louis eighth, Dexter Fowler welcomed Rodriguez with a double to right and, after an out, scored on Paul Goldschmidt’s grounder through Newman:

Hm. If Newman backhands that and fires across for an out, it’s a strong play. At the very least, he’s got to knock it down. Since neither happened, the Cardinals took the lead.

“It’s a tough play, for sure, when you try to slide on your backhand,” Newman told me. “But I hold myself to a higher standard, and I think I should make that play. I’ve made it before. I should’ve gloved it, and I should’ve made the play.”

Give the kid credit. He knew when I was approaching what I’d ask. Stood there and answered it, chin high. And even when I asked if maybe the ball had taken some unusual bounce — fairly common at that infield depth — he shook his head.

• It felt mostly moot since Rodriguez then elevated way too much to serve up this Ozuna two-run shot to make it 5-2:

• Immensely struggling Josh Bell was sat down the final two games of the series with the Brewers “to rest and observe,” as Hurdle worded it, and he wasn’t all that wild about it. But he also was aware that Hurdle had done something similar with Andrew McCutchen to great results, so he embraced all three free days — including the off-day Thursday in Pittsburgh, when he did little more than walk his dog — and showed up at Busch Stadium absolutely bashing in batting practice.

So when he stepped to the plate for the first time by nightfall and whacked a double over Fowler’s head in center, one eyebrow raised. And when he went oppo the next time up with a double to left, also to the fence, up went the other eyebrow.

He finished 2 for 3 with a walk, marking his first game with multiple extra-base hits since July 3. And it was … something.

Hold the parade. Still no home runs since July 5. When they start sailing out, we’ll talk.

• Mitch Keller will start Monday in Anaheim, Hurdle made known before this game, though that’s not official. This excites me … not in the slightest, and not just because Keller’s three big-league starts to date have been total duds, with 16 runs allowed over 12 innings.

Rather, it’s that his tendency to give up ugly innings has also been common with Class AAA Indianapolis, which is why his healthy 1.16 WHIP is an odd match for his 3.56 ERA. The baserunners come in bunches.

“It’s something we’ve talked about, something we’ve worked on,” Hurdle said. “It’s why he was sent back, because that’s not something you can fix at this level. He needs to find a way to control those innings.”

• Have I mentioned that all of the people responsible for this need to be fired?

Good, because I really don’t want that to get lost.

Fire everyone.

THE ESSENTIALS

• Boxscore
• Video highlights
Scoreboard
• Standings

THE INJURIES

Clay Holmes (10-day IL, triceps)
Gregory Polanco (10-day IL, shoulder)
Francisco Cervelli (60-day IL, concussion)
Jameson Taillon (60-day IL, elbow)
• Rookie Davis (60-day IL, forearm)
Lonnie Chisenhall (60-day IL, remote needs battery)

Here’s the most recent full report.

THE SCHEDULE

Joe Musgrove will try to shake the gopher-ball bug Saturday night — he’s given up 10 home runs in his past six starts, seven in his past three — against Adam Wainright. First pitch is 7:15 p.m. Eastern time. Clubhouse opens to media at 3:45 p.m., and Hurdle will speak shortly thereafter.

THE COVERAGE

All our baseball coverage, including Mound Visit by Jason Rollison, Indy Watch by Matt Welch, and Altoona Watch by Jarrod Prugar, can be found on our team page.