By: Sam Ekstrom | KFAN.com
It wasn’t a thing of beauty, exactly.
Sixteen fly balls – several caught at the wall and several more caught on a run in the gap, only two strikeouts, a fastball that topped out at 87 mph, and a “loopy curveball” that traveled slower than most folks drove on their way to the game.
Yet, at the same time, it was brilliant.
Twenty-three of 29 first-pitch strikes, a brisk 102 pitches all together, and not a single walk – in fact, only one three-ball count the entire evening.
That was Andrew Albers’ two-hitter of the Cleveland Indians in a nutshell.
Said Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire, “That was special tonight. In front of our crowd we had a chance to watch this young man throw the baseball, and I think you saw a wonderful defensive night for us.”
Following his debut start of 8.1 scoreless innings, Albers thought he was being realistic with his post-game comments last Tuesday.
“It's probably not going to get much better from there," he said.
Monday, he was eating his words.
“It’s pretty unbelievable. I didn’t think it would get any better after last start, and here we are again, and it did. It actually got a little bit better. That’s incredible,” said Albers, now 2-0.
Albers has now thrown 17.1 scoreless innings to begin his big-league career, just eight outs away from setting the all-time record for starting pitchers. Remarkable, especially when you consider that the 27-year-old was starting at the Single-A level just two years ago.
“It’s pretty surreal. It’s something you don’t expect,” said Albers, all smiles. “Yeah, it’s been a battle to get here. I think everybody kind of faces some adversity in order to get to this point, and, certainly, I feel like I’ve had my share, and to overcome it and have two outings like this to start your career, it’s just hard to put into words.”
Pitching at home for the first time, Albers got to experience what only a handful of pitchers get to experience in their careers: 30,000 fans standing in anticipation of a complete-game shutout.
True to form, Albers didn’t drag it out when the crowd rose with two outs in the ninth. Nick Swisher offered at the first pitch he saw and grounded out to shortstop to end the game and set off the Target Field fireworks.
“It’s fun playing behind him, and he is always strike one,” said second baseman Brian Dozier, who homered in the game. “He just fills the zone up – in and out, in and out – and gets them to chase.”
It must have felt good for Ron Gardenhire to see his coaching staff’s pitch-to-contact gospel executed with near perfection. Fourteen hitters were retired by Albers in three pitches or less.
“A pace like that, knowing he’s throwing the ball over and they’re swinging, keeps your fielders in the game,” said Gardenhire. “They’re not standing around. They don’t get complacent. ‘What’s happening right now? They’re going to hit the baseball, and we’re going to catch it.’”
But pitching to contact isn’t enough if you can’t locate.
Said Chris Herrmann, Monday’s catcher and Albers’ minor-league teammate, “Albers doesn’t really throw hard, but he has a lot of different pitches, and he knows how to throw strikes, and he knows how to use the entire plate. I felt like that was really effective for him; just using the entire plate and not just one side. It keeps the hitters off balance.”
Off balance might be too understated for Indians’ third baseman Mike Aviles, who flailed at a 65 mph curveball and popped out to end the eighth inning.
“We only used it a few times tonight and just for that reason: because hitters aren’t expecting it,” said Albers. “It worked out pretty well. We got Aviles to pop up. We got a few guys to hit some ground balls and got some more pop flies.”
Albers has just four strikeouts in two lengthy starts, but that number is overshadowed by a resounding 0.00 ERA.
The Saskatchewan native acknowledged that he’s not overpowering. His low-velocity, strike-throwing style begs hitters to be impatient and swing away, which is exactly what happened Monday. Over a third of Albers’ 76 strikes were balls put in play.
“My stuff’s not good enough, you know? I don’t throw that invisible slider that nobody can see coming, and they’re going to swing and miss through it. I don’t throw 95 to throw it by them, so I’ve got to try and get them in and out of the box as soon as I can and hopefully miss their barrel.”
“[The defense] has been just incredible,” continued Albers. “They could probably fill SportsCenter’s Web Gems with just our guys tonight. It was unreal.”
Infielders Brian Dozier and Pedro Florimon made remarkable plays to prevent hits, while outfielders Clete Thomas and Oswaldo Arcia recorded several fine catches on well-hit balls.
However, Albers’ performance one-upped them all.
“[These nights] don’t come around very often. You play this game a little longer, and you realize that. It’s pretty special,” said the rookie.