MINNEAPOLIS – Andrew Albers looked across the diamond at his opposing pitcher and saw everything he is not.
It didn’t matter one bit on Monday night.
The Canadian left-hander threw a two-hitter in his second career start and the Minnesota Twins backed him with a pair of home runs in a 3-0 victory over Danny Salazar and the Cleveland Indians.
Salazar is the prized prospect with the exploding fastball and knee-buckling changeup that has been blowing hitters away ever since the 23-year-old joined the organization. Albers is a soft-tossing, 27-year-old from North Battleford, Sask., who never met a radar gun that didn’t snicker at his 86-mph heat.
The matchup sure was lopsided — for Albers.
Albers (2-0) allowed two singles, struck out two and walked none. He’s thrown 17 1-3 straight scoreless innings in a start to his career that grows more improbable each time he takes the mound.
“I’m not a prototypical prospect,” said Albers, who had Tommy John surgery in 2009, was released by the Padres and was playing independent ball in Quebec in 2010. “I’m not a guy that goes out there and lights up a radar gun or throws devastating secondary stuff. But I can pitch a little bit and so far I’ve been having a little bit of success.”
Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe homered to help the Twins win for the eighth time in 11 games.
Salazar (1-1) gave up three runs and three hits, struck out five and walked three in four innings. The slumping Indians have lost seven of eight and are in danger of sliding out of the playoff chase.
Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes had the only hits for Cleveland.
“He doesn’t miss very many spots, and that’s the key,” Cleveland’s Michael Brantley said. “He kept us off balance. He threw the ball well tonight.”
Albers finally was called up to start in Kansas City on Aug. 6 and threw 8 1-3 scoreless innings. Mixing a fastball that topped out at 88 with a slow curveball that grazed 67, he flustered the Cleveland hitters all night and outshined the overpowering Salazar.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Albers said. “I didn’t think it could get any better than the last start. Now here we are and it did. It got a little bit better.”
The 23-year-old Salazar blazed through Cleveland’s minor league system, striking out 129 in 21 outings. That didn’t stop when he got called up. A fastball in the high 90s, a superb changeup and the benefit of facing hitters who have never seen him before helped him rack up 17 strikeouts and only two walks in his first two starts.
The velocity was there in start No. 3, but the command wasn’t. Dozier hit Salazar’s second pitch of the game out of the park and Plouffe hit a 96-mph fastball out for a two-run homer in the second.
Just when Salazar appeared to be settling in, he walked the bases loaded with one out in the fourth. He was able to wiggle out of the jam without allowing any runs, but with so much on the line for the Indians as September approaches, manager Terry Francona didn’t leave him out there.
Albers was ahead 0-2 on 10 of the first 20 batters he faced. He had a perfect game going until Kipnis blooped a soft single to centre field with two outs in the fourth and got some help from some spectacular defence along the way.
Dozier laid out and hauled in a pop fly over his shoulder to get Carlos Santana in the fifth and shortstop Pedro Florimon made a brilliant sliding stop of a grounder up the middle in the seventh, then threw out Nick Swisher from his knees.
“We saw how pitching is supposed to be done,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
NOTES: The Twins have scored their last 22 runs off home runs. … The Indians placed INF Mark Reynolds on release waivers. … Francona said LHP Scott Kazmir “is doing really well” after saying he had a “dead arm” in his previous start. The plan is for him to get an extra three days’ rest and start on Aug. 18 at Oakland. … Twins press box attendant Peg Imhoff celebrated her 75th birthday on Monday night. Imhoff has worked for the Twins for 38 seasons. … RHP Zach McAllister (4-7, 4.01 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Indians on Tuesday night against Twins RHP Samuel Deduno (7-5, 3.38 ERA).