Archer gets Opening Day nod for Rays

Archer gets Opening Day nod for Rays

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Kevin Cash wasn't exactly announcing breaking news on Monday when he told reporters what had been a foregone conclusion: Chris Archer will be the Rays' Opening Day starter.

"I think we all probably assumed [Archer would be the Opening Day starter]," the Rays' manager said. "Not to be taken lightly ... it's quite an honor given the guys that will pitch on Opening Day and given the guys in our rotation, because there's some good quality pitchers. But the way Arch really solidified himself last year and the huge adjustments he made from '14 to '15, he's come a long way, so we're excited for him."

Cash told Archer of his decision several days ago, but he asked him to keep the news a secret.

"It was nice because when he told me, he said, 'I know you had an idea, but this is still an accomplishment, don't forget that,'" Archer said. "Basically telling me not to take it for granted because people pitch their whole life and never accomplish something like that. So it's an honor to represent the Rays on the first day of the season in 2016. It's quite an honor."

Archer, who was named an All-Star for the first time in 2015, will be on the mound when the Rays host the Blue Jays on April 3 to open the season. He allowed an earned run over 4 2/3 innings in a 5-0 loss to the Braves on Monday afternoon after the announcement was made. 

The Rays will enter the season with one of the best starting staffs in the Majors. After Archer are (in no particular order) Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore and Erasmo Ramirez. Given that fact, Cash was asked if he had a difficult time making his decision.

"It's always a difficult decision because you care about all of the guys," Cash said. "But I think this one was fairly obvious given what he did last year. A healthy season out of a lot of those guys [in the rotation] and it's probably a more difficult decision."

The 27-year-old will be making his second straight Opening Day start, but he got the honor last year after Alex Cobb injured his elbow. Archer pitched into the sixth inning of that opener, allowing four runs (three earned) and taking the decision in a 6-2 loss to the Orioles. He went on to set career bests in wins (12), starts (34) and innings (212).

"It's a pretty big deal," Archer said. "It's a nice accomplishment. We have a lot of really good pitchers on our staff, so for me to be the one who was selected is nice. Because 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 nice. Even more special than last year considering how it happened, and considering the arms we have this year."

Always philosophical, Archer acknowledged that he has thought about the fact that only 30 Major League pitchers get to make Opening Day starts each season.

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"A very small percentage of people in the world get to play this game, and then get to make an All-Star team or be selected to start for their team and represent their team on that first day," Archer said.

Archer referenced pitching coach Jim Hickey's analogy for a pitcher's season.

"Jim Hickey likes to call a season a 3,000-pitch, 3,500-pitch masterpiece," Archer said. "And the first stroke is going to be thrown at 4:07 p.m. The first stroke of the 2016 masterpiece, I'm going to be the one to do that, and I'm really looking forward to it."

Archer feels like he's "the same pitcher" this year that he has been in the past, "just more consistent."

"I definitely showed glimpses in '13 and '14 [of] what I was capable of," Archer said. "I was just more consistent over the 2015 season, which gives me more confidence. I know I pitched in almost every possible situation you can pitch in.

"... So I just have more confidence. And the team that we're going to have out on the field gives me even more confidence. I'm looking forward to a great season, and there's only one goal, and that's to be the last team standing on the field."

Archer to start Opening Day

Cash said he has been impressed with Archer since first seeing him. Acquired from the Cubs in 2011 as part of the Matt Garza trade, Archer has posted a 32-32 career record with a 3.33 ERA in 95 big league appearances. He has made at least 30 starts in each of the past two seasons, and he has given up just 49 career home runs in 564 2/3 innings.

"Obviously really impressed by the potential [initially]," Cash said. "You watch him throw a bullpen [session] and you don't have to be a scout to see what he's capable of featuring. His fastball-slider combination [is impressive]. 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 person."

How good can Archer be?

"He can be one of those guys they describe as a special player in baseball," Cash said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.