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Rays' Chris Archer taking All-Star selection as his just reward

 
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) poses with his World Baseball Classic medal before heading to the clubhouse during the All Star Workout Day before the Home Run Derby at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. on Monday, July 10, 2017.
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) poses with his World Baseball Classic medal before heading to the clubhouse during the All Star Workout Day before the Home Run Derby at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. on Monday, July 10, 2017.
Published July 11, 2017

MIAMI

Chris Archer is showing off at this All-Star Game.

Tweeting and Instagramming photos Sunday night, as part of an agent-orchestrated PR campaign, of himself and Boston's Mookie Betts appearing to co-pilot a private plane from Tampa. Wearing his Team USA World Baseball Classic gold medal around Marlins Park on Monday in case "any of the Dominican or Puerto Rican guys are curious who the baseball country was." Staying in private digs on South Beach to "have a little bit of a vacation" while avoiding "the commotion" of the All-Star team hotel.

But what Archer really wants is to fit in.

"I always feel like I've had elite ability and elite talent and I definitely feel like I'm in the club," he said. "I'm not where I want to be, but I'm part of the club."

This is the second time in three years Archer has made the American League All-Star team, although, as he wasn't originally elected or selected to the 12-man staff, it took some finagling.

With one All-Star starter on the DL and three others asking out since they pitched Sunday, Archer eagerly accepted an invitation as a replacement, even though he, too, worked Sunday (throwing 108 pitches). In doing so, he had to agree to be available to pitch tonight, though — especially with the benefit of Rays manager Kevin Cash among the AL coaches — he likely will be the last, or second to last, choice.

That could look selfish, and it rankled some players around the league and raised some eyebrows in the Rays clubhouse. But it was important enough for Archer, who saw it as a just reward, clearly relishing the stage, obviously the attention and, most importantly, the stature.

"That's why I was so grateful when I got named," Archer said. "It's not easy. There are six starting pitchers there, I'm one of six. I definitely feel like I'm in that class, but proving it is another thing. Thinking you are a part of it and going out and proving it are two different things. I feel very fortunate and grateful that I'm a part of that group."

But, with a career 48-56, 3.57 record over parts of six seasons, is he?

Archer made the 2015 team in part due to a dazzling 10-game stretch where he went 6-1, 1.95 with 83 strikeouts in 67 innings, showcasing a slider that drew raves as one of the best pitches in baseball.

But the rest of that season (3-8, 4.48) and the start of 2016 (4-12, 4.66) didn't go nearly as well, and he spent last year's All-Star break by himself at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, "just chilling, clearing my head."

He did finish 2016 better (5-7, 3.25), narrowing avoiding 20 losses, and has been relatively consistent this season, posting a 7-5, 3.95 record that with 147 Ks in 103 innings scores out better than the basic numbers, which helped him get back.

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"The last 365 days I've been Chris Archer," he said. "I had a six-week period where I wasn't. So the confidence was never wavering, but it is nice to get back to the All-Star caliber level and statistics that I know I'm capable of."

Being an All-Star is one thing.

Being a true ace, one of the game's absolute best, is another.

Especially as the Rays this offseason, if not this month, again will be weighing trade offers, with four years of remaining contractual control for a relatively modest $33.75 million adding to the appeal.

Aces are rare, with maybe only a half-dozen in each league, depending on how you define it. At least that's what one, Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw, said.

"Longevity, durability, a consistent resume of good pitching and staying out there for seven-eight innings every time, winning a lot of games for your team," he said. "It is subjective — it's not one specific thing. I think you can look around the league and see who you'd want to give the ball to every fifth day."

Archer said he is "on the path" but suggested it's a better question for opponents to address. "It's hard for me to answer because I don't want to pat myself on the back," he said. "I still have way more to accomplish."

Kershaw lauded Archer's "unbelievable stuff" but said he hadn't seen him pitch enough to say if he belonged.

Others All-Stars had plenty of praise, Betts saying he is among "the best of the best," ex-Rays mate Wade Davis putting him in the game's top 10.

"He's right up there with those guys in my mind," said Detroit's Justin Upton. "He takes the ball every fifth day and he's dominant, so it's hard not to consider him an ace."

Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison, who roomed with Archer as Cubs minor-leaguers, was similarly effusive: "I might be a little biased, but I think his resume speaks for itself."

Archer, 28, can get better, specifically in improving fastball command and using his changeup more, and there always will be a question if he should tone down his emotions on the mound.

But he is pretty pleased where he is at.

Especially today.

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