July 24, 2014

Elyria
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Travelin’ man Matt Albers happy to have a chance to win a job in Indians’ bullpen

SURPRISE, Ariz. — Matt Albers is only 30, but he’s working for his fifth organization, which can mean that teams can’t wait to get rid of him or that every club in creation wants him.

Or it can mean that at a given time and place, a franchise needs what he has to offer or what he can bring in a deal. That’s been the case with Albers, who was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 then on to the Indians during the winter in the deal that brought Trevor Bauer and fellow reliever Bryan Shaw to the Indians.

Often when a player is traded for the first time he feels as if his family has thrown him out and demanded that he hand over the key to the house. Rejection is his first reaction.

If he is traded again — or again and again and again — he begins to understand that baseball’s a business. That he continues to have a job becomes much more important than the emotion attached to wandering from team to team, learning the names of new teammates.

“It took me by surprise,” Albers said of his first experience being traded, from the Houston Astros to the Baltimore Orioles.

“I was playing in Houston, playing in my hometown. My first reaction — I was a little bummed.
“But it was just one of those things. After awhile, you get used to it. The first time I got traded was difficult. After that, it got easier.”

Being swapped to the Indians was a breeze. Albers already knew a few of the players — including Shaw, his former teammate — and he had played for Terry Francona, his manager with the Red Sox.

“I was excited,” Albers said. “I knew Tito. And about the time I got traded, they made a couple of moves. And after I got there, they made a couple of more moves. I think this is a good fresh start for me. It really energized me.”

Albers also knew that he was wanted.

Asked if he thought Francona had something to do with him being included in the deal, Albers said, “I think he did a little bit. Obviously, it wasn’t all his decision but he had some bearing on it.”

And what kind of manager was Francona in Boston?

“He was real easy to talk to, a straight-forward guy,” Albers said. “He was always going to shoot you straight, and that’s all you can ask for.”

The fact Francona joined the Indians last fall gave the franchise more credibility than its recent record of failure would justify.

“He has a couple of World Series rings,” Albers said “I figure he could choose where he wanted to go. He didn’t come here for fun. He came to win.”

Albers’ two-team totals last year were impressive: a combined 2.39 ERA in 63 appearances (60⅓ innings). He was not as successful his two previous seasons, posting a 4.52 ERA in 75 2/3 innings for the Red Sox in 2011 and 4.73 ERA in 64⅔ innings in 2010.

When Albers has struggled, it’s probably for one reason.

“Consistently throwing all my pitches for strikes is the big thing,” he said. “It hurts me if I give up walks or keep falling behind in the count.”

For the past three seasons, Albers has carried a heavy bullpen load, pitching 200⅔ innings. But Albers hadn’t reported any wear and tear on his arm.

Albers has pitched in three exhibition games without glowing results: three innings, six runs, nine hits, two walks, three strikeouts. He also threw one scoreless inning in a practice game against minor leaguers.

If this were the regular season or if Albers did not have a track record, these numbers might cause some concern. But Albers’ spring performances — which aren’t complete yet — are of little consequence at the moment.

On the other hand, Albers’ presence on the roster is not guaranteed. So he is mindful that he needs to show Francona something.

“I think you always have to prove yourself,” he said. “I have to prove that I can help this team win. I’ve tried to make teams before. I can’t control a lot of that stuff. I just have to pitch to the best of my ability.”