When it was announced on March 18 that Alex Cobb would miss the Tampa Bay Rays’ home opener due to forearm tendinitis, it seemed like an obvious choice for who would step up in his place. Chris Archer should clearly get the ball for his first Opening Day start.
That’s exactly what happened. It was officially announced on Thursday that the former Durham Bulls and Clayton High School hurler will get the starting nod against the Baltimore Orioles on April 6.
Two years ago, very few would have predicted the rapid ascension that Archer has enjoyed. Heading into the 2013 season, Archer was hoping to simply make the roster after seven years at the minor league level.
His massive growth over two year was not lost leading up to this season.
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“I’m ready,” Archer said. “When an opportunity like this presents itself, there’s nothing holding me back because I know I’ve made the right choices to get here. Even when people try to denounce your ability. In 2013, I started the season in Triple-A and two seasons later I’m at the front of the rotation.
“Things are drastically different from two years ago. ... I just hope whoever’s reading this can grasp that things can change quickly when you do things the right way.”
The last several years for Archer have been spent working toward sustaining his strength and endurance for a full MLB season. Now that he knows he can maintain that level of consistency, he was also able to enjoy some of the benefits that come along with being a blossoming star in the game.
During the offseason, Archer was also tabbed as an ambassador for the MLB in South Africa. On the 12-day trip to South Africa, he ran camps and clinics in Cape Town and Johannesburg for young children to learn about or grow in the sport.
Not only was it a bucket-list trip for Archer, but also helped him put perspective on life.
“They have a greater appreciation for what I was doing and just life in general,” Archer said. “It just made the trip that much more special for me. ... Having baseball in my life is such a gift and opportunities like that make you realize just how truly rare this is.”
Now Archer returns to a team that looks drastically different than it did a season ago.
Cy Young winner David Price was traded to the Detroit Tigers last season. Wil Myers, another former Bulls player and 2013 Rookie of the Year, was traded to the San Diego Padres. In the front office, general manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon departed for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, respectively.
Left in their wake is a young team searching for an identity with new manager Kevin Cash at the helm. Some might count the franchise out in the AL East after an abysmal 2014 season, but Archer still believes Tampa Bay can compete.
“We have so much talent on this roster,” Archer said. “The problem is just the health of some of our best players. If we can stay healthy, I think we can do some special things this year.”
Thrust into the starting role on the young team, the 26-year-old pitcher won’t approach the game any differently than he has in the past.
“Whether it’s the first game of the season or the 120th on a Wednesday night and the stadium is nowhere near being sold out, I’m going to give my best,” Archer said. “Sure it’s a dream come true, but I’ll approach it like any other game.
“My job is to go out there and give my team a win. So all that other stuff is just noise.”
As he’s done throughout his entire career, Archer will block out that noise yet again. For a Rays franchise that sorely needs him, Opening Day can provide a glimmer of hope with Archer on the mound.