LAKE BUENA VISTA
The Rays made official Monday what has been obvious, that Chris Archer would be their opening day starter for a second straight year.
That it was not a big surprise is a result of how huge of a success he has become.
But you couldn't tell that by how appreciative Archer was of the honor. And, even more telling, he took it as another milestone on his quest to become not just the ace of the Rays staff but one of the game's absolute best.
"He wants that," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "He doesn't just want to be around and be pretty good and get paid and have a nice little career.
"He wants to be that guy. And not everyone does."
Archer, 27, really wouldn't have it any other way.
Having learned from the Rays aces who preceded him in James Shields and David Price, Archer has a feverish work ethic and an insatiable desire for success, leading by example but willing to speak up when he feels the need.
"He can be one of those guys that they describe as a special player," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "Not on our team, but a special player in baseball."
How well Archer did on the mound last season was dazzling enough, emerging as one of the American League's top starters, earning selection to the All-Star team, breaking the team strikeout record while posting a 12-13, 3.23 record and finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting.
Yet, Cash said, "probably the most impressive thing is how he cares about his teammates. Everybody sees what he does on the field, but the way he carries himself in the clubhouse, he talks to everybody, he's just a special, special personality."
That carries beyond the Rays' big-league group, as Archer will reach out to newcomers and minor-leaguers. (Monday, he even was asked to speak to one of the Braves' up-and-coming prospects, Tyrell Jenkins.)
Archer sees baseball as a platform to impact the lives of others and extends his goodwill and benevolence beyond the field. He works through several groups, including his Archway Foundation, to help kids and youth causes, preferring, when he can, to make a personal appearance to enhance the connection.
But his main priority is pitching, of course, and as well as he did last year, he can be better. He not only knows that but is determined to put in extensive work to do so.
"Look at what he did last year, and I won't say he's not even close to what he could be, but he has a lot of room for improvement yet," Hickey said. "And he kind of embraces that. He doesn't say, 'This guy is full of it, look what I did.' He says, 'Yeah, you know, you're right. I know I'm capable of more.' So that's half the battle right there."
Archer doesn't have a long to-do list.
Improved fastball command, like with most pitchers, is a goal, but Hickey said with Archer it's not so much about throwing more strikes but missing better. "There were times when you just needed that fastball down and away and it just wasn't there," Hickey said. "When that comes on a consistent basis, now you're talking about a real page-turner for him."
Next is further refining the changeup, "just making it a viable part of his arsenal," Hickey said. "It doesn't even have to be nasty."
And after that, well …
Just becoming more consistent, continuing to work hard, remaining focused, staying healthy and not losing his car keys on the day he pitches pretty much covers it.
Archer made the opening day start last year, but somewhat by default. Alex Cobb was named for the duty but then was sidelined with a hurt elbow, plus Matt Moore and Drew Smyly were also injured.
That made this year's assignment more meaningful.
"It's a pretty big deal, it's a nice accomplishment," Archer said, after pitching 42/3 innings of a 5-0 loss to the Braves. "Last year it happened, but not under the best circumstances. So to kind of be the one to earn it for the 2016 season is really nice."
And just another accomplishment along his way.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.