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Albers learns some lessons

Experience in '11 may help this year

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / February 29, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Matt Albers was arguably the biggest surprise on the Red Sox for the first four months of last season.

Let go by the Orioles, the righthander made the team out of spring training and was one of Terry Francona’s most trusted relievers through July 31. Albers had a 2.09 earned run average and held opponents to a .213 batting average. In 43 innings, he had 43 strikeouts.

“Everything was great,’’ he said yesterday. “It was probably the most fun I’ve had playing baseball.’’

Then his season turned ugly. From Aug. 1 to Sept. 15, Albers had a 12.18 ERA and allowed 27 hits (six of them home runs) over 17 innings while walking 12. The Sox were 3-14 in the games he appeared in.

Albers recovered in the final two weeks of the season, allowing one run in 4 2/3 innings. But he went into the winter wondering what had happened.

“I wish I could say it was one thing,’’ he said. “But it really wasn’t. My velocity was there and my arm felt fine. I was just not pitching well, and then my confidence started to slide.’’

Overuse was probably a contributing factor, too. Albers appeared worn out, and his sinking fastball floated up as a result.

“We looked at workload a little, and that must have been a contributing factor,’’ said manager Bobby Valentine. “I get it. He was one of the good pitchers, and they used him. Use your good pitchers. There were a lot of games he was needed.’’

Albers believes the experience will prove beneficial this season.

“I’m going to have games when I don’t pitch well,’’ he said. “But I think I’ll be able to bounce back quicker because of what I learned.

“It’s different pitching in Boston compared to Baltimore. There’s more attention and more is at stake. I’ll handle that better.’’

Albers also has shed some weight. He’s never going to be a finely tuned athlete, but he hopes he’ll be more durable.

“I’m a big guy, I always have been,’’ he said. “But I’m working at it.’’

The flip side

The Red Sox were on the stadium field to work on relays and cutoffs. It’s all part of spring training, making sure the fielders know where to be when the ball lands in a gap.

As Valentine talked about those drills, the subject of Derek Jeter’s famous “flip play’’ in Game 3 of the 2001 Division Series against Oakland came up.

Jeter somehow ended up on the first base line and fielded a throw from Shane Spencer in right field that missed two cutoff men. He then backhanded the ball to Jorge Posada, who tagged out Jeremy Giambi to end the seventh inning in a game the Yankees won, 1-0.

“We’ll never practice that,’’ Valentine said. “I think he was out of position. I think the ball gets him out if he doesn’t touch it, personally.’’

The Yankees later contended they practiced that play. Valentine isn’t so sure.

“That was amazing that he was there,’’ said Valentine. “I bet it’s more amazing to say they practiced it. I don’t believe it.’’

Twins on tap

The Red Sox will play the Twins at Hammond Stadium 6 miles away in Fort Myers tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. The “B’’ game will be free of charge and is not part of the Grapefruit League schedule. Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves are set to pitch. The rest of the roster for that game seems destined for Pawtucket. Those scheduled to play include Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway, and Will Middlebrooks . . . The pitchers will not throw today, and the pitchers and catchers will get the whole day off Friday . . . Outfielder Ryan Kalish, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, hopes to start throwing this week, perhaps as soon as today.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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