PHILADELPHIA – Matt Albers knew it had become a running joke among some baseball observers. He had 460 relief appearances, finished games in 102 of them, and somehow had not notched a save in 13 major league seasons. No pitcher had more relief appearances without a save since the save became an official statistic in 1969. Only Ryan Webb had more games finished (105) without one.
Albers, 34, had chances, but the save eluded him. Then he got his first chance of 2017 Friday — a chance never imagined just more than a month ago when he wasn’t on the Nationals’ Opening Day roster and only possible because the Nationals were without both of their co-closers. It came at Citizens Bank Park against the Phillies with the Nationals leading 4-2. And it looked dicey when he plunked Cesar Hernandez with a slider to begin the outing. But Albers recovered to get the three outs.
“Obviously, knew I hadn’t gotten one,” Albers said. “But I didn’t really think anything of it [and it] wasn’t that big a deal. But it’s nice to get this one. It’s fun, but it’s not the end of the world.”
The Nationals have needed him often and Albers has become indispensable for a bullpen that has struggled thus far. The right-hander, who began his major league career as a starter with the Astros in 2006, hasn’t given up a run in 11 1/3 innings this season – after not giving up a run in spring training. He’s allowed four hits. He’s hit two batters, but hasn’t issued a walk.
“He’s done about everything,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said.
Albers said that improved command and throwing his fastballs to both sides of the plate and up to lefties have been at the root of his success this season. With it, he’s been Washington’s best reliever this season and he finally got that save for a bullpen that has had three relievers close out the last three games.
“That was awesome,” said Shawn Kelley, one of Washington’s co-closers on the disabled list. “The way we won games the last three or four days in different variations…I think guys are stepping up lately and filling in roles that they shouldn’t even have to be in and they’re getting the job done and we’re winning games. So that was really special. Really, really proud of him and happy for him. It took him that long to get his first save.”