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Rays' Matt Andriese takes advantage of his turn

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Andriese (35) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees in George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. on Thursday, March 24, 2016. WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Published May 20, 2016

DETROIT — Matt Andriese believed he was ready and able to pitch successfully in the big leagues last year when he was bounced between the Rays rotation, bullpen and four trips back to Triple A.

He felt even better about his ability coming through spring training and into this season, when he was sent back to Durham. And more so in late April, when the Rays needed a fifth starter and instead called up hot prospect Blake Snell.

So when Andriese finally got the call to start for the Rays on Mother's Day in Anaheim, he knew exactly what he had to do.

"I was like, 'All right, this is my time to shine,' " Andriese said. "And, like I've always said, to prove to them that I belong here."

So far, he has been pretty convincing.

Andriese allowed only a first-inning run in working a solid seven against the Angels on May 8. Then he came back even better Saturday against the A's, throwing a two-hit, complete-game shutout.

All of which sends him to the mound against the Tigers tonight with a 2-0, 0.56 record, a 15-inning scoreless streak and a pretty good sense that he indeed belongs as one of their top-five starters.

"I think the biggest thing is being confident every time out and trusting in my stuff," Andriese said. "And I think that confidence does carry over a little bit."

Andriese, 26, came to the Rays in what is shaping up to be one of their best trades, a January 2014 deal in which they sent Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres to San Diego. In return, they got back second baseman Logan Forsythe, who was their team MVP last season; closer Brad Boxberger, who was a 2015 All-Star; and Andriese, who is now a part of their talented and touted rotation.

The Padres had been fast-tracking Andriese after making him a 2011 third-round pick out of UC-Riverside, and being dealt into the Rays' well-armed system was going to require patience.

Andriese, growing up in "a baseball family" with brothers who both played collegiately (with David also getting two years in the Pirates' minor-league system), remained undeterred.

He had been locked in on making it to the majors since giving up other sports to focus on baseball in high school, honing his talents with lessons from former big-leaguer Chad Zerbe and passing on the Rangers' 37th-round draft offer knowing he needed to get bigger, stronger and better in college.

So what if he had to wait a little longer to make it with the Rays?

"Patience is part of the game," he said. "I was pretty determined to get there. And I knew it was going to come at some point soon."

As frustrating as it was spending 2014 in Durham and 2015 bouncing around, Andriese became a better pitcher because of the cumulative experience, pitching coach Jim Hickey said.

"He does all of the things fundamentally that we talk about in pitching," Hickey said. "He throws strikes, he works quickly, he changes speeds, he moves the ball in and out, up and down. He's checked all the boxes in terms of development."

That's all standard stuff.

Among what makes Andriese unique — and thus successful — are two clear items:

A somewhat funky delivery, where he throws a bit across his body (from the third base to first base side) and keeps the ball hidden until late.

And a vast repertoire that technically includes four pitches — "four legitimate major-league pitches," Hickey interjects — but can present to a hitter as six.

In addition to a solid, though hardly overpowering, fastball that averages in the 91-92 mph range, curveball and biting changeup, Andriese throws a "slider — slash — cutter" that has hard and softer variations, and will occasionally drop in a sinker, which used to be his staple until he made the Rays-driven adjustment to work more up in the zone.

"You're changing eye levels, you're changing approaches, I think it's hard for guys to pick up on it," fellow starter Jake Odorizzi said. "He's throwing across his body, there's good stuff coming out of every which angle and everything he's throwing is doing different stuff."

Manager Kevin Cash said he has been impressed in a number of ways.

"The poise that he showed, the mound presence, the stuff — everything. There's not one thing I want to leave off," Cash said. "He's really evolved into a really good starting pitcher."

He just had to wait his turn.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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