Twins rookie starter Andrew Albers already in rarefied air

MINNEAPOLIS — Andrew Albers didn’t think things could get any better than his major league debut last week.

He proved himself wrong Monday.

The Twins left-hander tossed a two-hit shutout against the Cleveland Indians, going the distance in Minnesota’s 3-0 win. After pitching 8 1/3 scoreless innings in his first big league start last Tuesday, Albers outdid himself one start later.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Albers said. “I didn’t think it would get any better from last start, and now here you are again and it did. It actually got a little bit better. It’s incredible. It was another one of those nights where things just kind of went my way.”

Albers, a 27-year-old native of Saskatchewan, has had quite the journey to get to the major leagues. He spent the 2010 season with Quebec of the independent Canadian-American Association. From there the Twins signed him to a minor league deal and he worked his way up through the system.

Last week was the moment he waited for when he debuted in Kansas City. His first home start was even more sweet.

With a combined 17 1/3 scoreless innings to start his career, Albers now has the Twins’ record for longest scoreless streak by a starter to begin a career. Current Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak held the previous mark at 11 innings.

On top of that, Albers became just the fourth Twins rookie to throw a shutout with two or fewer hits allowed. He was the first since Gary Serum did so on Aug. 19, 1978 against Toronto.

“Like he said after his first game, he didn’t know how it’s going to get much better than that,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “Where do you go from there? You just get two more outs.”

In his debut last week, Albers had a chance to pick up the shutout as he began the ninth inning. But after a leadoff single and a one-out walk, Albers was lifted for right-hander Casey Fien, who recorded the final two outs.

Albers didn’t need any help from the bullpen on Monday. He retired Cleveland’s Nos. 9-1-2 hitters in order, capped by a Nick Swisher groundout to shortstop Pedro Florimon to complete the shutout.

Gardenhire didn’t want to have to take Albers out in his debut. He was glad he didn’t have to make that decision again Monday, although closer Glen Perkins was warming up in the bullpen.

“I was definitely going to let him go and see what happens,” Gardenhire said. “If two guys got on, they had a chance to tie the ballgame, I’d go to Perk, see if he can blow them away.”

Albers doesn’t possess overpowering stuff. As was the case in his debut, he didn’t even touch 90 mph on the radar gun. A few of his pitches — he classified them as curveballs — were clocked in the mid 60s.

But the crafty left-hander worked ahead in the count, often getting into 0-2 counts against Cleveland’s hitters. He wasn’t afraid to attack the strike zone and make the Indians put the ball in play. Albers also worked well once again with catcher Chris Herrmann, who was also his battery mate in the minor leagues the last two years.

“He just kind of fed off of his last start,” Herrmann said. “We didn’t really change much. We just came out there and we attacked the zone. … It was an outstanding performance by him.”

The only two hits Albers allowed Monday were soft singles to the outfield. Jason Kipnis had the first Cleveland hit with two outs in the fourth inning, while Yan Gomes added a base hit to left with one out in the eighth.

Minnesota’s offense spotted Albers early, much like it did in his debut. Second baseman Brian Dozier led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo homer to left. Trevor Plouffe added a two-run shot in the second inning to give Albers a 3-0 cushion to work with.

That was more than enough breathing room for the Canadian left-hander, who has made it look easy so far in his brief time in the majors. Yet it hasn’t been easy for Albers to get to this point. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009 and, after he was released by the Padres, pitched in independent ball in 2010. A workout at the University of Kentucky put him on the Twins’ radar, and he’s stuck with the organization since then.

So far, the uphill climb has been worth it.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Albers said. “It’s something you don’t expect. Yeah, it’s been a battle to get here. I think everyone kind of faces some adversity in order to get to this point. Certainly I feel like I’ve probably had my share. To overcome it and have two (great) outings to start your career is hard to put into words.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It’s just been incredible. I’m just trying to ride the wave as long as I can. Hopefully it’ll keep going.”

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