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August 7, 2013
What You Need to Know
Meet Andrew Albers
The Tuesday Takeaway
Scores of players have spoken those words after their first forays onto a big-league diamond. Stephen Strasburg said them. Mark Prior said them. And countless others have, too. But few players will cherish their first taste of The Show more than Andrew Albers, who toed the rubber for the Twins at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night.
Since 1916, as far back as the Baseball-Reference Play Index goes, only 44 pitchers have thrown a shutout in their major-league debuts. The most recent is Andy Van Hekken, who eight-hit the Indians on September 3, 2002. Albers did not become the 45th member of that club. Instead, he did something that only four debuting pitchers have done: work at least 8 1/3 innings without permitting a run, but leave the mound before the shutout is complete.
Kirk Rueter was the last to do it, on July 7, 1993, but he breezed through the minors after the Expos made him their 18th-round pick in 1991. Thirty years to the day of Albers’ debut, Danny Cox blanked the Phillies for 10 innings, only to give way to Bruce Sutter in the 11th and watch him surrender the lone run in the Cardinals’ defeat. But Cox, too, cruised up the organizational ladder and reached the majors about two years after finishing his collegiate career.
Albers took the road less traveled—and, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, “sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason.”
Seth Stohs, who covers the Twins as part of ESPN’s SweetSpot network, recounted the full story (originally published in 2012), when Albers’ promotion was announced. His post is well worth reading, but here is the gist:
Albers, with the non-prospect tag firmly attached due to his story and unspectacular stuff, performed well at every stop in the Twins’ ladder. From Fort Myers to Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Rochester, he threw strikes, kept the ball in the park, and used his command and pitchability to author a passable strikeout rate. In 22 starts for Rochester this year, Albers compiled a 2.86 ERA and a 116-to-32 K:BB in 132 1/3 innings.
When the Twins sent Scott Diamond down, he got the call. And he made the most of it.
Albers does not throw hard—he failed to touch 90 mph even on a radar gun that “tends to be hot”—and he lacks an electric secondary pitch. But he mixed his offerings well, and the Royals, who hit into 14 ground-ball outs, struggled throughout the night to square them up.
Eric Hosmer and Alcides Escobar each had two hits; their teammates went 0-for-23 against Albers and Casey Fien, who came on in the ninth to protect the shutout when the 27-year-old rookie, in the words of his manager, “was completely out of gas.” Albers walked only one batter and struck out only two. His relied heavily on his fielders, one of whom knows the road less traveled well.
As the Twins await a wave of prospects that in Jason Parks’ eyes represents the best collection in the league, Ron Gardenhire is trotting out a lineup of fill-ins around Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Albers’ teammates handed him a 3-0 cushion before he took the mound and padded it to 7-0 before he departed in the ninth. On a night when Mauer went 0-for-4, one of Albers’ fellow independent league alumni helped pick up the slack.
Brian Dozier and Morneau provided first-inning fireworks off James Shields, and in the top of the fourth, Chris Colabello joined the party. A product of Div. II Assumption College, Colabello spent seven years bouncing between two teams (Nashua and Worcester) in the Can-Am League before latching on with Double-A New Britain in 2012. On Tuesday, Colabello’s third big fly of the year—and of his big-league career—pushed the Twins’ lead to 5-0. Colabello later scored again, on a balk, as the Twins rounded out the night’s scoring with a two-run rally in the sixth.
Meanwhile, Albers tamed a Royals club that had hit .281 over its previous 13 games, permitting only five base runners to deal Kansas City its second defeat since July 22. He did not record the last two outs, but he nonetheless did something no Minnesota Twins pitcher had ever done:
And that is the story of how Andrew Albers put his name in the history books of a franchise he once had to beg for a job.
Tuesday’s Matchup in Review
The strikeout was Simmons’ first when facing Gonzalez, who slipped two curveballs past him for a two-strike advantage, climbed the ladder to change the shortstop’s eye level, and then coaxed a swing-and-miss with a chase pitch in the dirt.
Simmons’ walk came with one on and one away in the fourth inning, when he laid off a two-strike curveball similar to the one that got him to fish earlier in the game.
Gonzalez was unable to spot his changeup on the payoff pitch, handing Simmons the free pass to first. Simmons’ third meeting with Gonzalez, in the seventh inning, brought forth an example of a pitcher working backward across plate appearances, rather than within one. After feeding Simmons a steady diet of soft stuff early in the game, Gonzalez threw him six consecutive fastballs, and Simmons grounded the last one into a fielder’s choice to short.
The 23-year-old Simmons is now 5-for-13 versus Gonzalez, and since both are likely to play in the National League East for the foreseeable future, they won’t have to wait long to meet again.
Matchup of the Day
This season has been one of Ransom’s best in the majors—even though he is batting just .215 for the Cubs and .199 overall, counting an 0-for-11 stint with the Padres earlier in the spring. He has notched only 29 hits in 146 at-bats, but has made the most of those knocks: 18 of the 29 have gone for extra bases, and nine of them have cleared a fence. Chuck in 19 walks, and you’ve got a .277 TAv that mitigates Ransom’s inability to clear the Mendoza line. Erase his 9-for-55 showing against like-handed hurlers, and what’s left is a .220/.311/.527 triple-slash line versus southpaws. On the left side of the infield, that’s a useful player.
Ransom is 20-for-91 versus lefties this year, with seven of his nine doubles and seven of his nine homers. But Cole Hamels, his former teammate with the Phillies and Charlie Manuel’s probable starter tonight, is one lefty whom Ransom has never been able to crack. Granted, the sample is merely five plate appearances, but versus Hamels, Ransom has flied out, popped out, and picked up a strikeout hat trick on August 18, 2012.
The journeyman infielder has a rather well-defined, belt-high happy zone:
And that happy zone doubles as his power alley:
Venture into it, and you’re in trouble. Avoid it, and you’re safe.
But there’s more. That happy zone exists only on fastballs and, to a lesser extent, changeups. Ransom has not collected an extra-base hit on a left-hander’s breaking ball, curve or slider, high or low, inside or out, since the start of 2007.
And that is why Hamels ofted to soft-ball Ransom when they last matched wits nearly a year ago. He threw 18 pitches across three plate appearances, and 10 of them were changeups or curves. He earned the first two strikeouts on changeups—both looking, one on outside-corner paint, the other on a knee-high freeze pitch with a full count—and then worked backward to complete the hat trick with a swing-through on a fastball.
Hamels endured a rocky first half, but he improved from month to month, and was solid in June and July. Since the All-Star break, he has worked 20 innings over three starts without allowing a home run. Ransom has been in a 2-for-38 rut since the festivities at Citi Field, but he proved earlier this season that he can spoil a cruising lefty’s outing with one swing should he lay eyes on a mistake (7:05 p.m. ET).
What to Watch for on Wednesday