MINNEAPOLIS: It was a tale of two rookie pitchers, one whose changeup reaches the plate at just about the same speed of the other’s fastball.
But it’s difficult to say that flame-throwing Danny Salazar had the advantage over Andrew Albers, as the Twins defeated the Indians 3-0 at Target Field on Monday night.
Manager Terry Francona removed Salazar after four innings. He didn’t endure an awful outing — giving up three runs and three hits — but his command wasn’t as sharp as he displayed in his first two big-league starts, in which he dazzled onlookers and opposing batters with fastballs that ranged from 96 to 100 mph and a changeup that consistently measured 87 on the stadium radar gun at Progressive Field.
Salazar’s fastball didn’t have quite the same zip at Target Field, probably because of a difference in the calibrations of the two radar guns. Nevertheless, he muscled at least one 97 mph heater to the plate Monday night.
His downfall was the home run ball. Brian Dozier hit the second pitch of the first inning over the wall in left to give the Twins a 1-0 advantage, and after Salazar gave up an infield hit to Oswaldo Arcia in the second, Trevor Plouffe launched a drive into the left field seats to stretch the lead to 3-0.
Salazar began his major-league career July 11 by no-hitting the Blue Jays for five innings before leaving after six, having given up one run. In his next start, he struck out 10 Tigers in 7⅔ innings but gave up two home runs.
Including his outing Monday night, Salazar had allowed four homers in 17⅔ innings. Something to work on, for sure.
Albers consistently befuddled Tribe batsmen with his 86 mph fastball and one pitch (a changeup) that traveled only 65 mph.
Seldom will anyone see a pitch in a major-league ballpark dawdle to the plate at that speed unless it is a knuckleball or thrown by a coach in batting practice.
The Twins’ defense made three excellent plays behind him, but Albers isn’t supposed to do all the work.
So does speed matter? It depends. Albers threw a complete game, yielding only two hits and walking none.
He threw only 102 pitches, and 75 percent were strikes. That was his obvious key to success.
Apparently, this is not an apparition. In his major-league debut (and his only other big-league appearance), Albers held the Royals to four hits, delivering 8⅓ scoreless innings.
He threw 109 pitches in that game. So far he has not given up a run in 17⅓ innings.
Albers is a 27-year-old left-hander from Saskatchewan who underwent elbow reconstruction surgery in 2009. Long ago he abandoned the label of lukewarm prospect (he was a 10th-round draft choice), if he ever was one.
The Padres released him after he had his surgery and he ended up pitching in a Canadian independent league team in Quebec three years ago, working exclusively out of the bullpen
He was signed as a free agent by the Twins in March of 2011 and has been working his way up through the farm system ever since.
Among Albers’ achievements for Triple-A Rochester this year was pitching three complete games.
He ranked first among International League pitchers in strikeouts with 116, was tied for second with 11 wins and fifth in ERA with a 2.86 figure.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.