MINNEAPOLIS — Toronto is nearly 2,000 miles away from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, where Twins pitcher Andrew Albers grew up. But there was still something special for the left-hander when he got to face the Blue Jays — Canada’s only major league team — on Sunday at Target Field.
Just before Albers took the mound for his seventh career big league start, he got to hear the words of “O Canada” belted over the stadium’s speakers. He noticed the numerous Blue Jays jerseys in the crowd, as well as a few Saskatchewan Roughriders CFL football jerseys. And even though the Toronto faithful were rooting for the other team, they still gave their fellow Canadian a round of applause when his name was announced.
“That was nice. A lot of them were cognizant of the fact that I’m Canadian,” Albers said. “It’s always nice to get that kind of applause from your countrymen. They appreciate what you’re doing here. That’s always a good feeling.”
Albers eventually gave Twins fans plenty of reasons to cheer as he pitched seven shutout innings Sunday. His solid outing wasn’t enough, however, as Minnesota’s bats went quiet and the bullpen surrendered a pair of runs in a 2-0 loss — the Twins’ 10th straight loss at Target Field.
Still, for Albers Sunday was about as good of a bounce-back outing as he could have hoped for after he was yanked in the second inning Monday in Houston. In that game he allowed five runs on nine hits in what was his shortest outing of his brief big league career.
Against the free-swinging Blue Jays, Albers registered a season-high five strikeouts and scattered just four hits over seven innings. Toronto didn’t have more than one hit in any inning but did threaten to score in the third with a runner on third base and one out. But Albers got Rajai Davis to pop out to first base before retiring Brett Lawrie on a highlight-reel grab by second baseman Brian Dozier, who elevated to snag the liner and save a run.
“Great play,” Albers said of Dozier’s catch. “Obviously he went a long way for that, got up. I didn’t know a white guy could jump that high. It was a nice play.”
While the Twins’ defense bailed Albers out in the third inning, Minnesota’s offense didn’t do Albers any favors all game. The Twins had just three hits against Toronto starter Esmil Rogers, who held them scoreless through 7 2/3 innings. The Blue Jays’ bullpen shut the door behind him as Albers’ third start of seven or more scoreless innings went for naught.
“Our pitcher did a hell of a job, threw the ball great,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “He gave us everything he had. … Offensively, we didn’t do anything. Not enough hits and not enough chances.”
Albers will get a few more starts before the 2013 season is over as the 27-year-old continues to make a case for himself on the 2014 roster. Following Sunday’s game, he is now 2-2 with a 3.35 ERA in seven starts. Albers doesn’t throw hard — he struck out Toronto’s Brett Lawrie on a 66 mph curveball — but he’s been effective and has shown good control. Through 45 2/3 innings in the big leagues he’s walked just three batters and struck out 20.
Throughout his career, Albers had never reached more than 103 innings, which came last year while at Double-A New Britain. He has now thrown 178 innings combined between the majors and minors, and Gardenhire noted that the Twins will keep an eye on him as the season winds down.
As they do so, they’ll also be keeping 2014 in mind. The starting rotation remains very much up in the air for next season, and Albers is hoping he can inject his name in the conversation. A few more games like Sunday’s start would help.
“This game has a way of humbling you real quick,” Albers said. “The minute that you think you’ve got it figured out, it’s going to prove you otherwise. It’s starting to feel normal, starting to get into that routine. But at the same time, you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to continue to work hard and you’ve got to get ready for your next start.”