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Jake Odorizzi: Rays' best pitcher of 2016 looks to another season of consistency

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (23) talks with starting pitcher Matt Andriese (35) in the dugout during the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, March 26, 2017.
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (23) talks with starting pitcher Matt Andriese (35) in the dugout during the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, March 26, 2017.
Published Apr. 4, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — A dozen or so reporters and cameramen crowded around Chris Archer's locker Friday, a throng so thick it spilled to the adjoining locker, which belongs to Jake Odorizzi.

The second pitcher in the Rays rotation, who makes his season debut tonight against the Yankees, patiently waited until the crowd thinned so he could reach his stall.

"Some guys are really good at the limelight. Arch is one of them," Odorizzi shrugged. "He has a great personality. He's a great player. When you get a locker next to his you got to wait a little bit. I'm used to it."

The crowd that gathered Sunday morning to talk to Odorizzi about tonight's start wasn't as big.

Odorizzi is used to that, too. He prefers it.

The franchise is built on starting pitching with a lineage that includes David Price, James Shields, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Blake Snell and Archer.

And Odorizzi, though he tends to be overlooked.

"I like to kind of stay that way," Odorizzi said.

FIND YOURSELF in this Gigapan photo of Tropicana Field on Rays opening day.

Maybe it's because Odorizzi doesn't have that megawatt personality like Price or Archer or that top-of-the-rotation bulldog mentality of Shields or Cobb. He was never the next big thing like Moore or Snell.

"That's not O, but he gets the job done," Archer said, "and that's more important than the other stuff."

The Rays are fine with that, especially when Odorizzi was their best pitcher during the lost season of 2016.

"We pretty much knew we were going to get five-plus and on any given day he could go really deep into the game," Evan Longoria said. "He's really efficient. He's easy to play behind. He throws strikes. He's around the zone. Just all the things that you really look for in a pitcher."

Odorizzi was 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 starts and 187 2/3 innings ——both career highs. What impressed Odorizzi the most was the second half, when he posted a 7-1 record with a 2.71 ERA in 14 starts.

"I liked my second half a lot only for the reason my first half was so bad," Odorizzi said. "For me to overcome that and have a respectable season with a career-high in innings, it was a testament of facing some adversity, overcoming it and finishing on a high note.

"Baseball is never easy from one season to the next, one month to the next, one game to the next, so to be able to turn around a season is something I've never accomplished on that scale so it made me grow as a player."

OUR OPENING DAY GIF TO YOU: Check out this page of animated Rays

That second half performance was the best Odorizzi said he has pitched in his career.

"I'd love to be able to walk right into that. If not, I'm going to work to get back to that spot," he said. "I've learned how to get to that point so now I have a gauge of what I have to do to make adjustments if I need to, if I start off slow. If I start off well, that's my goal. If not, I know how to get to the good, to the happy place."

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And if he's pitching in that happy place, Odorizzi won't mind the detour he takes around the cameras and notepads that flock to his more famous teammates to get his locker.

"That's the main point as long as I'm doing well," he said. "My teammates know what I'm capable of doing. The outside attention is kind of moot for me."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50