The pitcher who hasn’t been able to stick in the major leagues improved to 4-1 since the Mariners acquired him from the Braves.
A month ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find a Mariner fan who could tell you who Andrew Albers was.
Now he’s a player who is helping save the Mariners’ season after one starting pitcher after another has been felled by injuries. The left-hander threw six scoreless innings in the Mariners’ 8-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night, improving to 4-1 with the M’s since being acquired last month.
The Mariners (71-71) clinched a win in the three-game series and gained a game in the wild-card standings, moving three games behind Minnesota for the second wild-card spot.
Albers allowed four hits and walked one. He improved to 3-0 at Safeco Field, where he has allowed two runs in 17 innings.
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“He was outstanding,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I can’t say enough about the job that he’s done since he’s come in here. He attacks the strike zone, he’s doing it consistently he and gives us a chance to win ballgames. Awesome.”
While Albers was shutting down the Angels, the Mariners’ offense got busy, particularly in the fourth inning when they scored six runs to take an 8-0 lead. Nelson Cruz capped off the six-run frame with a three-run homer to left field that left the field in a hurry.
“I don’t think you can hit a ball any harder than that,” Servais said. “It was a missile.”
Cruz was not the only offensive star for the Mariners.
Mitch Haniger was a double short of the cycle and Robinson Cano celebrated his bobblehead night with a pair of doubles.
But the big story was Albers. Seattle acquired him from the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 11 for cash. It certainly wasn’t a huge amount for a 31-year-old with little pedigree, and the M’s have undoubtedly gotten more their money’s worth and a lot more.
“He trusts his stuff,” Servais said before the game. “His stuff doesn’t wow anyone or overpower anyone, but he trusts it. He’s going to attack. He’ll go after hitters and throw strikes, and when we play good defense behind him the results are pretty good and when we don’t they’re ugly.”
That trend continued Saturday. Albers kept the Angels off balance with a fastball in the mid to upper 80s (well below the major league average) and off-speed pitches as much as 20 miles slower. He was helped by several good outfield plays. In his one loss with Seattle, the Mariners committed five errors in the first inning against the New York Yankees and lost 10-1.
“They hit some balls to the track and the outfielders ran them down,” said Albers, who is from Saskatchewan. “You feel pretty good when you can throw it over and your outfield is going to run them down like that. Certainly comfortable here right now; the fans are great, and I’m having fun.”
Albers did Saturday what Servais said he does: throw strikes and attack hitters. After a walk and double put runners on second and third against him with two outs in the fourth inning, he struck out Martin Maldonado on three pitches to end the threat. He retired the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings.
He’s a “guy who’s been around the block,” Servais said of the 31-year-old, who has spent time with 11 different minor league teams over the past 10 seasons, including playing in independent leagues in Canada and the U.S. During that period he also spent a year in the Korean baseball league and missed a season with Tommy John surgery.
He has had a couple of short stints with the Minnesota Twins, and played one game with the Toronto Blue Jays but had not been able to stick in the big leagues.
“I couldn’t be any happier for him,” Servais said. “When you go through the journey that he has throughout his career, those guys really appreciate the opportunity and they really appreciate it when they’re doing well because they tear themselves up when they’re not doing well.”
And except for the debacle in New York, the Mariners have had fun when he’s on the mound.
“It was a great job by (general manager) Jerry Dipoto and the front office recognizing a guy like that who just needed an opportunity and we certainly had one at that time,” Servais said. “We’ll take as many of those outings as we can get.”
• Starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who has been on the disabled list since May 17 because of a right shoulder injury, pitched a simulated game Saturday.
Servais said he looked a lot better than the last time he saw Iwakuma throw in such a situation, but it doesn’t sound like Iwakuma will make it back this season.
“We’ll sit down as a group and talk about where we want to go from here,” Servais said. “He’s worked his tail off even to get to the point where he is today, but we’re kind of running up against it with three weeks left.”
• Servais said that starters Felix Hernandez and James Paxton came out of Friday’s simulated games in fine shape. When the manager was asked if a decision had been made when to slot them back into the rotation, Servais said, ‘Not publicly. I am just being honest. We need to talk to those guys first before we go to the media.”
Servais indicated an announcement on when they would return could come as early as Sunday.
• Cano hit his 30th double of the season in the third inning, joining Stan Musial as the only players to accomplish the feat 13 times. Musial did it 16 times.
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