When the Red Sox signed Matt Andriese in late December, most figured the veteran right-hander simply would be rotational depth and a mop-up reliever. And that was fair, given his 4.57 ERA over 183 appearances (50 starts) entering the season.
However, nearly a month into the season, Andriese has been Boston’s best reliever not named Matt Barnes or Garrett Whitlock, although he’s pitched more meaningful innings than the latter.
Andriese’s Red Sox career got off to an inauspicious start when he gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk over four innings, accumulated on Opening Day and three days later, when Boston picked up its first win. Since then, he’s been dynamite: 0.00 ERA on five hits and two walks while striking out seven over 8 2/3 innings. Batters over that span hit just .179 off Andriese, who picked up two holds and one save and now has a 1.42 ERA on the season.
And the 31-year-old has worked in a variety of roles. He’s pitched long relief in a blowout, handled middle innings in tight contests and closed out a game in extra innings. Most recently, Andriese set up Matt Barnes by twirling a perfect eighth inning Tuesday night in the Red Sox’s 2-1 win over the New York Mets.
“There’s no margin for error and (the Mets) can hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after the game, via MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. “The way he went about it with that fastball up, good changeup, it was really good.”
Andriese also is capable of handling a heavy workload, something that makes him awfully useful on a team whose starters average roughly 5 1/3 innings per outing — still good enough for top five in the American League.
“This guy is one of the most important guys on our pitching staff because he can do it all,” Cora said. “He can start, he can give us multiple innings, he can close games, he can set up games. He’s really good and the fact he can bounce back is really important for us and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
In the long run, Andriese’s most important contribution to the Red Sox might be his tutelage of Whitlock, who looks like a star in the making. During spring training, Andriese taught Whitlock how to improve his changeup, and the former New York Yankees prospect has heavily featured the pitch while striking out 14 batters over 11 1/3 masterful, scoreless relief innings. If the Red Sox make some noise in the fall, Whitlock might be a major factor.
As for the short-term, and whether Andriese could supplant Adam Ottavino (4.32 ERA, two blown saves) as the primary setup man, Cora indicated he simply wanted to give Ottavino an extra day off. And, in reality, Andriese might be most valuable in — and best suited for — his current role as a swiss-army knife. Boston at some point likely will need him to make a spot start, too.
But if Andriese maintains his current level of performance, he might force his way into a consistent, high-leverage role in the Red Sox bullpen.
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