SEATTLE — When a teenage James Paxton was being recruited by the University of Kentucky baseball program, he was shown around campus by a fellow Canadian left-hander, Andrew Albers.
Albers even took Paxton to a Wildcats basketball game.
A decade later, they are teammates with the Seattle Mariners, and Albers will take the injured Paxton’s spot in the rotation Tuesday night for a start against the Orioles. Left-hander Wade Miley (6-9, 5.19 ERA) will start for Baltimore.
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Albers was acquired by the Mariners last Friday from Atlanta for cash considerations after spending the entire season with the Braves’ Triple-A in Gwinnett affiliate.
Albers, 31, had Paxton-like numbers in the International League, going 12-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 26 games (17 starts). Paxton was 12-3 with a 2.78 ERA for the Mariners before straining a left pectoral muscle last Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels, forcing him to the 10-day disabled list.
“We’ve taken a little different road from our college days at UK,” Albers said. “We’ve come full circle.”
While Paxton has spent his entire career in the Seattle organization, Albers took a circuitous route.
Albers was a 10th-round draft pick of the San Diego Padres in 2008. He pitched in just five games for their rookie-level Arizona League team before injuring his arm.
He missed the following season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was released by the Padres at the end of spring training in 2010. He spent that season with Quebec in the independent Can-Am Association before signing a minor league deal with the Minnesota Twins.
Albers seemed to make a breakthrough in 2013, when he played for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic and was named the Twins’ minor league pitcher of the year.
Albers made his major league debut on Aug. 6, 2013, for Minnesota in Kansas City, pitching 8 1/3 shutout innings and allowing just four hits. His next outing, he pitched a two-hit shutout against Cleveland. He was 2-5 with a 4.05 ERA in 10 starts for the Twins.
However, he was released in the offseason and headed overseas in 2014, going 6-13 with a 5.89 ERA in 28 starts for the Hanwha Eagles of the Korean Baseball Organization.
He returned to North America the next season with the Toronto organization, going 2-11 with a 5.70 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo (although he did make one appearance for the Blue Jays).
Albers started 2016 with Lancaster (Pa.) in the independent Atlantic League before being re-signed by Minnesota. He appeared in six major league games for the Twins last season before signing as a minor league free agent last offseason with Atlanta.
“He’s done everything you need to do to stay around,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s had a really good year in Triple-A.
“You saw what Wade LeBlanc did for us last year (going 3-0 in eight starts). Hopefully, (Albers) can come in and do the same.”
Said Albers: “A few days ago, I was on the East Coast (in the minors), and now I’m here in the pennant race. You never know when you’re going to get an opportunity to pitch at this level, so I’m going to try to take advantage of it.”
Albers will be the 16th different starting pitcher used by the Mariners, one shy of the franchise high set in their inaugural season of 1977.
“I’ve never been in an organization, even in my time in the front office, that planned for 16 starters,” Servais said. “Most years you’re looking at eight or nine deep, and the eighth guy might make two or three starts for you.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter admitted there’s always some unknown when facing a pitcher without much history against the opponent. Albers’ lone appearance vs. Baltimore was a scoreless inning in relief last year.
“We’ll watch some tape on (Albers) and talk to some people. He’s 31 … he’s been around,” Showalter said. “I don’t know if it’s an advantage or a disadvantage. We had a couple of guys come up last year and ambush some teams. There are two ways to look at it.”
Miley was 7-8 with a 4.98 ERA in 19 starts for the Mariners last season before being acquired by Baltimore at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline for left-hander Ariel Miranda. Miley has started twice against Seattle in his career, going 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA.
The Orioles have won each of Miley’s past three starts, and he went 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in those outings.
He credits his recent success to an improved curveball, altering his grip after watching teammates Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Tillman.
“It’s by design — I’m trying to have a pitch that I can use to get ahead (in the count) with,” Miley told the Baltimore Sun. “I’ve actually been able to use it to put away guys, which is something I really haven’t done much in my career with a curveball, but it’s good. …
“I talked to Tillman about it and started spiking it a little bit. Seeing Hellickson come over here, he spikes it. I just kind of played with it. I don’t know if it’s a big change or not.”