Albers' struggles may open door for Wheeler

Albers' struggles may open door for Wheeler
August 21, 2011, 4:56 am
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By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
KANSAS CITY Matt Albers assured an assembled group of media on four different occasions that he hadnt lost any confidence after summoning his blowtorch and destroying a one-run Sox lead in the sixth inning of Saturday nights loss.

Thou dost protest just a little too much, Mr. Albers.

The right-handed reliever has been a revelation for the Sox this season as the third arm behind Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon in Bostons bullpen, but he was strictly batting practice on Saturday night.

I feel good and the confidence is there. I feel good physically, assured Albers after dropping to 4-4 with a 3.71 ERA on the season. It comes down to execution and Im not quite where I need to be. Ive pitched when Ive been hurt before and thats definitely worse. Or Ive lost confidence before, and thats not the case this time.

I think I was just working behind guys. Physically and mentally I feel good. It really just comes down to execution. You want to improve, but you dont want to make complete changes either. For me working ahead in the count and refining my slider are the big things.

Albers allowed four runs and three hits in a 13 of an inning during Bostons 9-4 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, and coughed up any chance for Tim Wakefields 200th career victory. Wakefield had tired in the sixth inning, armed with a 4-1 lead, and Albers finally ambled out to the mound in a one-run ballgame that already had trouble written all over it.

Then Albers walked rookie catcher Salvador Perez to bestow the undisciplined 21-year-old backstop with his first career walk in 33 at bats, and it was apparent that one of Bostons bullpen success stories didnt have it on this night.

Hes a pretty free-swinging guy, said Albers. I need to get him out there.

In fact Albers really hasnt had it during the entire month of August, and has an 11.25 ERA in seven games this month coming off a month of July when he went completely unscored upon.

There could be several things at play.

Albers could be feeling the pressure of important games down the stretch in August for the first time in his career after toiling in relative obscurity for the Orioles and Astros over the past five seasons. It could be that Albers is hitting a wall like so many other baseball players do during the so-called dog days of the season when fatigue creeps into the arms and legs of even the most determined ballplayers.

Or it could be that Albers is simply regressing back to the pitcher that hes been throughout his career while posting a 4.79 career ERA in Baltimore and Houston, and never really coming close to the high leverage innings and responsibility hes earned in Boston. Albers is in Terry Franconas trusted bullpen plan after performing well all season with a pretty good array of hard stuff out of the bullpen, but perhaps that needs to change.

A lot of balls caught the middle of the plate and there were a ton of two-out runs. That killed us, said Francona. Walking the first guy is not good, and there were a lot of balls that caught too much of the plate.

He had a little stretch like the rough August earlier in the year. Hes done some really good things for us. Were certainly not going to run away from him.

Terry Francona wasnt having any of it publicly, but it was pretty difficult to ignore Dan Wheelers perfect inning of work to close out of the game was essentially wasted after the game had already been decided. While Albers ERA is blowing up like an Underdog balloon in the Macys Thanksgiving parade, Wheeler has put together 10 straight scoreless games and dropped his ERA to 3.95 while featuring some of the gutsiest efforts of the season.

Its true that Wheeler stumbled badly to start the season and has been playing catch up ever since then, but it could be high time that the big righty starts getting some of the high leverage appearances with the game on the line. Perhaps slipping Wheeler into the game in the sixth inning wouldnt have changed a thing, but its hard to imagine the righty walking Perez with the way hes turned into a strike-throwing bullpen demon over the last month.

Ive been able to locate better. Ive worked every day to really turn things around, said Wheeler. I really look at percent of strikes and making guys put the ball in play rather than putting guys on base. Thats one of the things I really take pride in: throwing strikes and not walking guys.

It looks like pitchers stock is falling while the other one is rising, and perhaps now is the time for a little role reversal while theres still plenty of time left for things to be sorted out in the AL East.

Stay tuned to the seventh inning of the next ballgame with the Sox holding a tight lead to get your answer.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs