For newly acquired righthander Matt Andriese, arriving in Fort Myers, Fla., for a fresh start with the Red Sox comes with elation. Or relief.
After what seemed like an endless kerfuffle between the Major League Baseball Players Association and team owners on when to start the season as a result of COVID-19, having a clearer understanding allows Andriese to focus on baseball.
The COVID-19 virus, of course, is still very much present. Players and many staff members don’t yet have access to the COVID vaccine. MLB has a set of protocols, yet much like last season, teams are still exposed to a virus which has claimed more than 480,000 American lives.
Some definition to what’s ahead, however, allows Andriese to attack the season accordingly.
“Once they said everything was supposed to start on time, I feel like it’s back to normal. Kind of like get the mind-set right.” Andriese said by phone last week. “So, I’m excited to get to the new team and get going. I feel like last year, there were so many obstacles. This year, there’s still the unknown. I think once everyone’s out there and we get on the right track, I feel like it’ll be positive for the teams and the league.”
The unknown trickles down to teams. In the case of the Red Sox, COVID-19 ended lefthander Eduardo Rodríguez’s 2020 season before it began as he dealt with myocarditis following his bout with the virus. It halted the development of Darwinzon Hernández and Josh Taylor, who returned in August, but struggled and then were shut down with shoulder injuries. The season ahead remains slippery, one that could slide to the bottom of the hill at any moment. Yet the expectation for players to perform remains the same.
At 31, Andriese enters this year with an undefined role. He’s open to starting, though he hasn’t made more than five starts since he made 17 with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017. He could be a reliever, or the bulk-inning guy if the team utilizes an opener. Andriese, who made his debut with the Rays in 2015 and spent three and a half seasons there, is accustomed to multiple roles and ready to do whatever the Red Sox feel best fits their need to win ball games.
The Sox have taken their share of gambles on pitchers they feel can be effective. They are bullish on Garrett Richards and his high spin-rate fastball and curveball mix, but he hasn’t had the results that the data indicates he quite possibly could reach.
“It’s really exciting to get under the hood with them and find out what makes them tick,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said recently, “and then work together to figure out how to get a game plan to bring the best out of the guy.”
Andriese doesn’t possess the sheer stuff that Richards has. He mainly leans on his fastball, which sits at roughly 93 miles per hour , and his changeup.
“He mixes the the ball really well,” pitching coach Dave Bush said. “He makes it move in different directions. The changeup is really good, and plays against both lefties and righties. In some ways, there’s nothing uniquely special about him, but he does a lot of things really well.”
Like Richards, Andriese has searched to find his footing at times, registering a 4.57 ERA in six big-league seasons. The Sox are banking on the thought of finding the guy he was in September, when he posted a 1.46 ERA in 12⅓ innings of work.
“I think it’s just about being comfortable in certain roles, and having success,” Andriese said. “So finishing off the year strong, healthy, and feeling good, I can take that into the Red Sox this year.”
More importantly, his history with the Rays and Bloom — and their track record of getting the best out of players, in part because of the data and developmental process on the field — has Andriese’s attention.
“I enjoy looking at all those numbers,” said Andriese. “I enjoy reading the analytics and the data to help you with pitch shape just to know how your stuff plays. It’ll be nice to get back into a good organization that values that, so we can get back on track.”