PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- All hands were on deck at the beginning of last season. Rays starting pitchers were going down with injuries left and right, leaving the team scurrying to find arms to carry the load.
Matt Andriese, who made his first outing of the spring on Thursday when he threw two scoreless innings in the Rays' 10-3 win over the Orioles, stepped forward during this period to become a valuable piece of the staff.
The 26-year-old right-hander had started throughout his career since signing with the Padres after they selected him in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of UC Riverside. But the Rays needed something more out of him than starts -- they needed flexibility.
Thus, Andriese got stretched out during Spring Training, following his normal program to serve as a starter. He did so with the knowledge that relief duty would likely become a part of his role.
Andriese went on to make the Opening Day roster, and he appeared in 25 games (eight starts) over five stints with the Rays, giving him his first taste of the Major Leagues. He went 3-5 with a 4.11 ERA and spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Durham, where he posted a 2.35 ERA in 13 appearances (12 starts).
"We threw a lot at him [last year], and it was very challenging," manager Kevin Cash said. "A guy that has always been a starter. We started him. We relieved him. We piggy-backed him. We did all these things, and he just continued to get better, build more confidence. ... You can make the argument that probably wasn't the fairest way to treat a young pitcher. But it was a need, and we needed him to do that."
Pitching coach Jim Hickey said what Andriese went through is something "you can't really teach."
"You can learn it," Hickey said. "You can certainly provide some guidance. The biggest part of what I do is simply encourage them to seek out other guys who have been through the same type of thing and how they dealt with it."
Hickey also said when a pitcher is going though such a transition, it's important to not set him up for failure as much as possible.
"Our obligation [is] to give him a couple of spots where we can give him sort of a soft landing, so he can get acclimated," Hickey said. "You would certainly give him enough time to get ready the first couple of times you call on him.
"You wouldn't just pick up the phone and say, 'Hey, Andriese has the next inning.' You would give him a little bit of a heads-up, 'There's a good chance you're going to pitch in the sixth.' Or whatever inning it is."
Andriese said last year he "learned to be prepared for anything, any situation they might put me in."
"I'm comfortable starting," Andriese said. "But I think last year, I was able to get comfortable in the bullpen as well.
"The bullpen was new, and I think it was a good learning experience. I was used in a lot of different situations. Three-inning stint here, three outs here, so I think I just learned from a wide variety of opportunities they gave me. It made me more prepared for this year."
Cash agreed, noting that because of what Andriese experienced last year, Andriese now "comes in looking like a big league pitcher."
"The way he goes about his business," Cash said. "The way he throws a bullpen. All of those things. But what he provided for us and that versatility from the pitching aspect -- along with [Andrew] Bellatti, and some other guys -- [that] was huge."
The plan for Andriese this spring is the same as last spring.
"He will be stretched out as a starting pitcher, but he is very much competing to be on our club," Cash said. "And that was kind of the message that was given to him. He understands that.
"Fortunately for us, we have some really good starting pitching. Now, anything can happen. We saw what happened last year, a snowball effect of injuries. Let's hope it doesn't go that way. But we're very comfortable with Matt Andriese in any role."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.