Albers hopeful, motivated for 2014 roster spot

MINNEAPOLIS — If the last two months have been an audition for Andrew Albers, he left the job interview with a sour taste in his mouth.

Pitching in his final game of the 2013 season, the Twins left-hander allowed four runs — three earned — on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings Thursday as Minnesota fell 6-5 to the visiting Cleveland Indians. Albers has been up and down since making his major league debut on Aug. 6, but the last few outings have been trending in the wrong direction for someone hoping to make the club in 2014.

Still, Albers viewed his 10 starts with the Twins in a positive light when reflecting on the season after Thursday’s loss.

“It was a lot of fun. It’s nice being up here, no question about that,” Albers said. “Obviously there’s some room for improvement, and it’s something I’ve got to take into the offseason and talk with (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and talk with (manager Ron Gardenhire) and those guys and see where they think I can improve and really work on those aspects of my game in the offseason.”

One bad inning did Albers in on Thursday, and it started when he was called for a balk after he stepped off the pitching rubber when he had already come set in his windup. Albers said he wanted to change the sign but was too far into his delivery when he stepped off the rubber. There was no argument from him when the umpire called a balk. 

That eventually resulted in Ryan Raburn scoring on first baseman Chris Colabello’s error when Colabello couldn’t field a throw to first by Albers. Asdrubal Cabrera bunted in front of the plate and Albers attempted to make a sliding stop of the ball. After finally picking up the ball, he fired to Colabello, who missed the throw.

One batter later, Indians catcher Yan Gomes made Albers and the Twins pay when he launched a two-run homer to left field for a 3-0 Cleveland lead. It was the sixth home run Albers has allowed this season, and this one capped the Indians’ three-run fourth inning.

“In this game, two things can happen,” said manager Ron Gardenhire. “You make an error, you pick each other up and you get them out, or you make a bad pitch and it ends up more, and that’s what happened. He just got a pitch where the guy clicked on it and put it in the seats. Errors can always lead to that, but sometimes a pitcher’s got to make a better pitch than that.”

Gardenhire took Albers out with one out in the sixth inning. The left-hander allowed a leadoff single to Raburn, who came around to score Cleveland’s fourth run. Albers was charged for four runs on seven hits along with a pair of walks and two strikeouts in his 5 2/3 innings of work.

Albers, a 27-year-old Saskatchewan native, joined the Twins’ organization in 2011 after spending time in the Milwaukee and San Diego organizations as well as a stint with Quebec in the Canadian-American Association. Albers burst onto the big league scene in early August when he began his Twins career with two scoreless outings of 8 1/3 and nine innings, respectively. Even though his fastball tops out at 88 mph, the crafty lefty was able to hit his spots and deceive batters enough to keep them off balance.

Following those first two starts, though, teams started to figure out Albers. He gave up five runs in each of the next two outings as his numbers came back to earth a bit. Entering his final start Thursday, Albers was 2-4 with a 3.98 ERA. After Thursday, Albers finished the season with a 4.05 ERA and a 2-5 record.

Still, he had shown enough to catch the attention of the Twins’ front office, especially as Minnesota enters the offseason with plenty of question marks in the starting rotation.

“It’s exciting, just to see a kid come up from where he’s been and kind of go through our organization and do what he’s done and come up here and put it out on the field,” Gardenhire said. “It gives us another option. He’s a competitive guy. He doesn’t have the overpowering stuff, let’s put it that way, but he knows how to pitch.”

Albers now has 10 major league starts to look back on this offseason, and he said he’ll use them as motivation. Also motivating him is the fact that Minnesota has five rotation spots next year, with many of them up for grabs.

One of them could certainly be his for the taking.

“We’re going to see what happens. It’s going to be interesting,” Albers said. “Hopefully I’ll be in the mix. There’s obviously no guarantees. I’m going to have to work hard and I’m going to have to get better if I want to pitch up here next year, there’s no question about that.”

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