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“Gary looked me in the eye and said this guy is going to pitch in the big leagues — as he’s throwing 86 miles per hour,” O’Neil said.
Winn and O’Neil huddled after Albers pitched the first inning of a simulated scrimmage. The scouts had seen enough to make a sales pitch to their Twins bosses, who ultimately gave Albers a chance.
“I don’t want to say we were totally convinced he was a major league starter,” O’Neil said, “but the makeup is there.”
Albers relies on deception and location to offset his lack of velocity. He moves the ball in and out and mixes speeds to keep batters guessing. And he’s not afraid to pitch inside.
Albers didn’t hesitate when asked to pick his best pitch.
“Strike one,” he said.
No, fastball or slider?
“Strike one,” he responded. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fastball, changeup, curveball. It’s strike one, period, end of it.”
He’s thrown first-pitch strikes to 71 percent of the hitters he’s faced in his two starts. Chris Colabello, his teammate at Class AAA Rochester for much of the season, saw his share of first-pitch strikes when he faced Albers in the Canadian independent league. Colabello estimated he went 0-for-20 against him.
“He’s aggressive, he attacks the zone and he doesn’t back down,” Colabello said. “People undervalue that if you throw 86 or 82 or whatever.”
Even so, what’s happened still feels surreal to Albers. He spent 30 minutes signing autographs after Monday’s start. Several sports bars in his hometown in Saskatchewan now show his starts on big screens. A stranger stopped his mother in the grocery store the other day to offer congratulations.
“The whole town is going crazy,” older sister Christine said.
His parents, sisters and other relatives plan to be at Target Field to watch him pitch Saturday. His sister Pam said the family was struck by his reaction after the final out of his complete game.
“That was the biggest we’ve ever seen him smile,” she said. “That’s about as excited as he gets.”
Albers doesn’t know how long this will last. He figures he might as well enjoy every minute of it.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org
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