Chris Archer's ascent toward excellence continues at 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday with his Opening Day start against the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.
The Rays ace is trending up, and he won't settle for anything but being the best -- a status he can achieve on any given night.
Take what he did last season on Aug. 20 against the Astros, a night that saw the right-hander play the role of No. 1 to near perfection, crossing off all the items on a staff ace's wish list in the Rays' 1-0 road win.
Archer pitched a complete-game shutout, earning his team a split against a tough opponent. Not only did he save the bullpen, but he also rebounded from a tough outing. Archer's line read like a pitcher's dream: No runs on one hit with a walk and 11 strikeouts. All on just 98 pitches.
"Those types of [performances] are motivation," Archer said. "They keep me hungry because it shows me my true potential. So, I'm striving for that outcome for 34 starts, 35, 36, however many including the playoffs. It motivates me. It makes me work harder to get that sensation every time I'm on the mound."
Archer moved into an elite classification in 2015, even if his win-loss record (12-13) did not reflect that.
The 27-year-old became the seventh pitcher in team history to reach 200 innings, the blue-collar goal that says so much about a starter. He became the first Rays pitcher to do so since 2012, when David Price and James Shields both exceeded the mark. In addition, Archer became the fourth Rays pitcher to record a 200-inning, 200-strikeout season, joining Price, Shields and Scott Kazmir.
Take away four games -- all anomalies -- from Archer's 2015 season, and his numbers would have been even more Cy Young Award-worthy. In those four starts, he surrendered 30 runs in 18 1/3 innings. Clean those off the slate and Archer's ERA would have dropped from 3.23 to 2.14.
So it appears that Archer simply needs to do a better job of limiting the damage at times. While pitching coach Jim Hickey agreed with that assessment, he noted that Archer has already done a nice job of doing just that.
"[Minimizing the damage] was his Achilles' heel big time before last season," Hickey said. "Even the season before that I can remember a number of occasions where things snowballed, especially with two outs. And he was unable to put the brakes on it, and he did a great job of that overall.
"He made 33 starts and four times things got out of hand on him. Not always through his own fault, either. But, can he do a better job? Absolutely, but you're talking about if he does clean that up and is able to limit that damage or those big innings, you're talking about a guy who is in the top five, in the conversation, in all of Major League Baseball I think."
Archer said that he wants to be better "in those situations" going forward.
"Not perfect, but better," Archer said. "And that's where my progress is going to be."