After pitching into the ninth inning in his major league debut last Tuesday, lefthander Andrew Albers set quite a standard for himself as he approached his second start.
“If he goes out and tries to duplicate what he did before,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game, “he’ll get in trouble.”
Albers didn’t duplicate. He added on.
The lefthander shut down Cleveland in leading the Twins to a 3-0 victory at Target Field on Mondaty night. And three words that seemed to have dropped out of the Twins lexicon — complete-game shutout — have returned. Albers’ 102-pitch masterpiece was the first shutout by a Twins pitcher since July 27, 2012, when another Scott Diamond, another lefthanded Canadian, also stymied the Indians.
Albers was pulled with one out in the ninth inning last week at Kansas City because Gardenhire thought he was wiped out. That wasn’t the case Monday, when Albers had the announced crowd of 30,922 on their feet for the final out.
“We saw how pitching is supposed to be,” Gardenhire said. “Pitching you like to see.”
“He just fills the zone up, in and out, in and out,” second baseman Brian Dozier added. “He gets them to chase, gets them to pop out.”
Albers walked none and struck out two while throwing 102 pitches, 76 for strikes. He began the ninth with 92 pitches and got Drew Stubbs to fly out, Michael Bourn to ground to second and Nick Swisher to ground to short to finish his gem.
Albers’ 17⅓ scoreless innings to start a career is a record for a Twins starter. Earlier this year, reliever Caleb Thielbar didn’t give up a run in his first 17 games spanning 19⅔ innings.
His family, present for his debut at Kansas City, weren’t at Monday’s game. But for his second start in a row, the crowd included an cheering section that waved a banner that read, “Albers for Prime Minister.”
“Interesting that’s it’s different guys than the guys in Kansas City,” Albers said. “For people to make that trip and come down is special to me. It means a lot to drive 15 hours to watch me pitch a baseball game. I thank them a lot.”
The native of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, didn’t disappoint. Albers opened up with an 85 miles-per-hour fastball to Bourn for a strike — and plenty more were coming. First-pitch strikes? Albers got ahead 0-2 on 12 batters. From there, he could get them out with a sinker, cut fastball or even a curveball that floated in as slow as 67 mph.
“For me it’s being aggressive, to get strike one and trying to get ahead of guys and get them to put the ball in play early,” Albers said. “I don’t want guys to see too many pitches up there. My stuff isn’t good enough.”
It was a case of placement over power. Cleveland righthander Danny Salazar can hit 99 mph on the radar gun, but the 23-year-old rookie made mistakes and paid for them. Dozier led off the bottom of the first with his 12th home run of the year. Trevor Plouffe added a two-run homer in the second for a 3-0 lead. Boy, did Plouffe need that one: It was his first home run in 78 plate appearances.
Albers allowed two hits and struck out two, with zero walks. He worked fast: The game time of 2 hours, 21 minutes was the Twins’ shortest game of the year. It kept the defense on its toes, and it flourished. Dozier made a diving catch down the right field foul line in the fifth. Pedro Florimon made a diving stop, then threw off his rump in the seventh to retire Swisher. Clete Thomas, on the next play, raced deep into the gap in left-center to run down a drive by Jason Kipnis.
The Twins are 10 games under .500 for the first time since July 6.
“An all-around good win,” Dozier said, “and Albers, I’m telling you, he’s fun to watch.’’