SARASOTA, Fla. - It happened on Tuesday afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. Two pitchers from the same high school pitched in the same spring training game. They graduated six years apart from Clayton High School in North Carolina, which is about 30 minutes from Raleigh.
But they’ve developed a close friendship and bond, and the star pitcher from Clayton has been trying to help the rookie find his way in the majors.
The vet is 30-year-old right-hander Chris Archer of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The rookie is 24-year-old right-hander Evan Phillips of the Orioles. Archer started on Tuesday and fanned four in two scoreless innings. Phillips pitched a scoreless sixth inning versus the Pirates and the two pitchers caught up on old times later that night at dinner.
In the Orioles clubhouse on Thursday, Phillips provided more on the backstory to this friendship.
“So I first met Chris when he was in rookie ball, low A level with the Indians and I was a freshman in high school,” he said. “We both went to the same high school just a few years apart. He learned that I was a young 14-year-old and a good baseball player, and he and his trainer kind of took me under their wing. We started doing workouts together before school and after school and throwing together when we could. He showed me how to work at a young age and what it takes to be a professional baseball player.
“We stayed pretty close throughout his journey through the minor leagues. I got to see him pitch a lot in the Carolina League and a lot in Triple-A at Durham. I got to watch his journey all the way up, even before I got drafted. Was fortunate to see him live it and learn what it takes to get to the major leagues before I even stepped on a professional baseball field.”
So Phillips knew Archer before he became a front-line big league starter, one who pitched for Tampa Bay since 2012, until he was traded at the deadline in 2018. In 189 big league games, Archer is 57-71 with a 3.72 ERA and has averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings.
“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” Phillips said. “He’s a great asset to have when I have questions about what it takes to get to the majors and stay here. It takes a lot to get here, but even more to stay. So, he’s been a great friend for a long time and we actually got to catch up the other day. We had dinner for the first time in a long time. I know we’ll stay close.
“Chris is a standup guy. If you watch him on TV you might think he’s this big ball of energy that likes to show off for the crowd. But he’s just a great guy who has deserved everything he has earned.”
Phillips is trying to find his way with the Orioles after he was acquired in a trade from Atlanta last July 31. A native of Salisbury, Md., Phillips lived with his family in Ocean City the first few years of his life before his family moved to North Carolina. He loved watching Cal Ripken Jr. and wore No. 8 in youth baseball. Last summer he became the 26th Maryland-born player to play for the team.
Phillips had a strong 2018 season for the Braves’ and Orioles’ Triple-A affiliates, going a combined 4-6 with a 2.28 ERA and eight saves. He walked 17 and fanned 72 in 51 1/3 innings. But he pitched to a 13.11 ERA in 11 2/3 innings in nine big league games, throwing four times for Atlanta before the trade and pitching in five Orioles games after the deal.
Phillips, who averages 94 mph on his fastball, is having a strong spring so far for the Birds. He’s thrown five scoreless innings with one walk and four strikeouts.
“Feeling great. Had four outings so far and they’ve all gone pretty well,” he said. “I still feel like I’m not quite as sharp as I need to be. There has been some luck in my outings, and that is how pitching can go. But I feel like I’m throwing well and I’m healthy, and that is the most important thing. The new staff has been very open to what we do best and trying to maximize on that. So it’s been great for a lot of guys in camp.”
Coverage today: Join me later today for another Orioles game live on Orioles.com and/or the MLB At Bat app at 1 p.m. The Orioles (8-5-2) will face Tampa Bay (6-8-1) on the road in Port Charlotte. Right-hander Dylan Bundy will make his third spring start.
Couldn’t be more proud of @EvanPhillips36. Known this kid since he was like 12 and now we are pitching in the same games. He even tried to pay for dinner, nice try but not happening!!!! More is on the horizon for you, E pic.twitter.com/DDQmqZzIKt-- Chris Archer (@ChrisArcher22) March 6, 2019