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Rays' Kevin Cash will cringe through Chris Archer's WBC work. Should you?

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) laughs with right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) in the dugout before  the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, March 9, 2017.
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) laughs with right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) in the dugout before the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, March 9, 2017.
Published Mar. 10, 2017

PORT CHARLOTTE — Chris Archer knows, or thinks he knows, a lot of things. And he's typically not bashful about sharing.

There he was again Tuesday, suggesting during a Team USA media event in Fort Myers that the World Baseball Classic is more than a sporting event but a potential panacea for the vast current political unrest.

"Given the timing and the circumstances of our country, I think it's a great opportunity for us, temporarily, to show we are united, regardless of the turmoil and things going on here and other places in the world," Archer said. "What's going on in the country right now makes it even better."

Grand vision? Perhaps. At worst, misguided optimism, which isn't so bad.

More relevant to the Rays, and their hopes for this season, of course, is what Archer does on the mound when he starts Team USA's opener tonight in Miami.

Or more precisely, how it could negatively impact him going forward.

And to that, Archer — thrilled at the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue — is adamant that there is no cause for concern.

He is certain that between his carefully plotted training schedule, elite level conditioning and default-mode full-intensity approach, plus the WBC pitch count provisions (65 in the first round) and health-first commitment by Team USA manager Jim Leyland, that there is absolutely, positively nothing to worry about.

"Extremely confident," Archer said.

Freak injuries aside, the red flag for participating players — particularly pitchers — isn't the workload but the intensity with which they will be performing at a time of year when they typically are still easing their way into top form.

As Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, a late addition for the 2009 U.S. WBC team, said, "It's X-amount of pitches in spring training versus X-amount of pitches in a 40,000-seat stadium that's sold out. When you're representing your country the intensity it a little bit different than it is in Port Charlotte, Fla., on March 3. So that's the worry."

Some studies from the first three WBCs note a valid concern. Others dismiss it, suggesting that the data can be manipulated and that the injury and/or performance regression rate is no higher than for non-WBC pitchers.

Either way, Kevin Cash spoke for many managers and front-office execs — who are obligated to publicly support the MLB-produced event — in saying he was happy for Archer and will be rooting for him but admitted he'd also be "cringing" watching him throw.

Archer's premise is that unlike some other pitchers, such as Rays teammate Jake Odorizzi, who builds velocity through March, he throws at full intensity all spring so pitching today against Colombia won't be that much of a step up. The 97 mph on the radar gun his last outing Saturday seemed prime evidence.

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"This is going to be more intensity," Archer said. "But I feel like I've prepared myself pretty well."

So that's where Rays fans — and staff — have to trust Archer, who though signed through 2019 (with two options) still has a lot at stake in wanting to return to elite-level status coming off his 19-loss season.

So much so there's a reasonable chance he might only pitch one time, even if the U.S. advances. As much as pitching in the WBC today means to Archer, so does pitching well all year for the Rays.

Figure them to set their five starters on a six-day schedule to open the season with two off-days in the first 10. So for Archer to be lined up for the April 2 opening day assignment he covets, he would need to pitch again March 16 (WBC second round) and 22 (potentially the championship game), then a short outing March 28.

He gets that people — in and out of the organization — are concerned that getting ready too early for the WBC, or pitching with too much intensity there, could somehow hurt him later in the season.

And he is confident he can handle both.

"Yeah, I understand it, because even with all this excitement, my main focus is pitching whatever day it is I'm going to be pitching for the Rays," he said. "So after (today) it all has to line up perfectly for that day if I'm pitching. If it doesn't, I'll be bummed out.

"But the focus is strictly that I want to be successful for the Rays. I want to get off to a good start. Hopefully these guys that we're counting on get healthy, because I really do think we have a chance to do something."

He deserves the trust he can do both.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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