Chris Archer's problem is that he tends to think too much. He had no trouble focusing in his season debut on Sunday.
The Rays' No. 3 prospect struck out eight while allowing one run on two hits over six innings as the Triple-A Durham Bulls defeated the Gwinnett Braves, 7-4.
"The catcher calls the pitch, I get the sign and I just think about executing the pitch," Archer said. "I've realized over the years you can only really focus on one thing at a time."
The Raleigh-area native said his work with pitching coach Neil Allen has allowed him to simplify his process and deliver quality pitches one at a time. Instead of considering too many factors, he concentrates on throwing what his catcher calls.
"When I came up last year, he just made things simple for me," Archer said of Allen, who pitched in the Major Leagues from 1979-89. "Every time I throw a side [session] or even in the game, he tells me one or two things to focus on, and I've really responded with him."
Making his third start for the Bulls -- he went 1-0 in two outings last year -- Archer lowered his Triple-A ERA to 0.95. Relying on his fastball against Gwinnett, his task got easier once he was able to mix in his secondary offerings.
"My fastball command was pretty good and I was able to get ahead of hitters and then use my off-speed stuff to get them out," said Archer, MLB.com's No. 74 overall prospect. "Later, I was able to get ahead with the off-speed stuff and kind of pitch backwards. It was one of those nights where I was feeling comfortable throwing anything at any point.
"Obviously, the guys behind me made some great plays, so we got out to a big lead and I was able to pitch to a bigger part of the plate, not worry about being too fine."
Last year with Double-A Montgomery, Archer logged 134 1/3 innings, going 8-7 with a 4.42 ERA and 118 strikeouts. He also issued 80 walks, a number he's looking to reduce.
"I worked on my mental game a lot more," the 23-year-old right-hander said. "As opposed to thinking about who the hitter is, what the count is, what the score is, mechanical things, usually my one thought is, 'Whatever the pitch is, execute it, go.'
"If the catcher calls fastball in, I say, 'OK, execute that here.' If it's a slider outside the zone, I say, 'All right, throw that,' instead of having three or four different thoughts."
Without too many distractions, Archer feels he'll be able to regularly pitch at the highest level. He made two appearances with the Rays in Spring Training and tossed three scoreless innings.
"For the most part, I just want to stay consistent, take it one pitch at a time," he said. "I tend to overanalyze things, and [Allen] has just made it simple. I've just been building off that."
The Bulls made things a little easier for Archer, scoring five times in the second inning to build a 6-1 lead. Brandon Guyer capped the outburst with a two-run double and Will Rhymes finished with two hits and a pair of runs out of the leadoff spot.