Rays ace Chris Archer rapidly becoming a face of baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Chris Archer relishes his emerging status as one of the new faces of baseball.

Evan Longoria still may be the most accomplished player on the Tampa Bay Rays roster, but Archer is quickly making name for himself after a breakout season in 2015.

The 27-year-old pitcher makes the second opening day start of his career Sunday against the defending AL East champion Toronto Blue Jays at sold-out Tropicana Field.

''It's a nice accomplishment. We have a lot of really good pitchers on our staff, so for me to be the one selected is nice,'' said Archer, who also started last season's opener, but only after Alex Cobb underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery during spring training.

''Last year it happened, but not under the best circumstances, so to be the one to earn it for the 2016 season is nice,'' he added. ''Even more special than last year considering how it happened and considering the arms we have healthy this year.''

Archer was a first All-Star and finished fifth AL Cy Young balloting in 2015, when he went 12-13 with a 3.23 ERA in 34 starts. In addition to working a career-high 212 innings, the right-hander struck out a franchise-record 252 to rank fourth in the majors behind Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale.

A voracious reader who's among the more quotable players in baseball, Archer is making his mark off the field as well through numerous community and charitable endeavors.

He made his debut as a broadcaster during last season's playoffs, and easily was the most sociable Tampa Bay player during the team's recent trip to Cuba, where he got an opportunity to chat with President Barack Obama before the Rays played an exhibition against the Cuban national team.

Archer welcomes his role as the leader of a starting rotation that has a chance to be one of the best in the AL, excited to follow in the footsteps of former Rays James Shields and David Price, who helped set a standard young Tampa Bay pitchers feel compelled to uphold.

Tampa Bay earned playoff berths four of six seasons between 2008 and 2013.

''The day I walked in the door, James Shields laid it down for me: `This is what we do. We throw 200 innings. We're not really concerned about runs because innings speak for themselves,''' Archer said. ''We're trying to carry the load so that the bullpen can be used in the right situations and be as fresh as they possibly can be for that extra month of the season.''

Manager Kevin Cash said Archer earned role through hard work and performance.

''He comes about it naturally. It's not something that he feels he has to force, and that's why he's pretty special,'' the manager said.

''Performance gives you the platform in the clubhouse to accomplish things off the field as well,'' Archer said, adding he hopes improve this season in every aspect of pitching.

''Every single thing that I do on the mound, I want to be more consistent with,'' he said. ''Fastball command, sharpness of my off speed, in-zone rate with all my off speed, minimizing damage, controlling the running game. Everything's that on the list, I want to get better at.''

The Blue Jays, coming off a season in which they lost to Kansas City in the AL Championship Series, will counter with right-hander Marcus Stroman in the opener.

Stroman was limited to four starts last year, going 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings after sitting out most of the season recovering from left knee injury suffered during spring training. Dating to 2014, the 24-year-old has won eight of his past nine decisions.

The Rays have announced a sellout for the home opener for the 11th consecutive year. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to attend, the first time in the franchise's 19-season history that a commissioner has visited Tropicana Field for a home opener.

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