Albers holds scoreless streak as free agency nears

Reliever enters Saturday with 22 1/3 straight scoreless innings

Albers holds scoreless streak as free agency nears

CHICAGO -- Here's a Major League Baseball trivia question that might stump even the most ardent of fans: What pitcher holds the longest active streak of scoreless innings pitched?

No, it's not the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw or the Cubs' Jake Arrieta. The answer resides on the South Side of Chicago, and it's not single-season franchise strikeout leader Chris Sale.

Matt Albers, who started the season as the White Sox middle reliever and lost time due to surgery on a broken pinkie finger on his right hand suffered during an on-field melee with the Royals, entered Saturday's contest with a scoreless streak of 22 1/3 innings and 20 straight scoreless appearances. That mark sits just ahead of Arrieta at 22 innings.

The logical follow-up question to this original inquiry is: How does Albers find success, especially with his average fastball checking in at 89.7 mph per Fangraphs? Both Albers and White Sox manager Robin Ventura came up with reasons.

"I started throwing a different kind of changeup last year, and I think it has just been able to help me with left-handed hitters and being more consistent with my slider and the location of my fastball," Albers said. "As long as I'm keeping it down and have them hitting it in the ground, hopefully guys make the plays behind you. It's pretty much a simple approach, but I'm able to execute that."

"He throws some sort of invisi-ball," Ventura said. "It's not velocity that does it. Sometimes it's delivery, where you put it, how you throw it. I remember facing guys like that, where you can sit there and look at it and it doesn't look all that imposing, but you don't get a good look at it, you don't get a good swing at it, and that's what he does."

Albers entered Saturday with a 1.21 ERA over 30 games and becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. The right-hander has enjoyed his time with the White Sox and in Chicago, but he added that he would like more of a late-inning role in the future. That hope might not quite fit in the White Sox bullpen equation with David Robertson, Zach Duke and Nate Jones in place.

"When I came up, I was kind of that middle guy, the guy going longer, which is a role that's needed in the bullpen," Albers said. "It's an important role. But I kind of like pitching a little bit more often and consistently in games we are winning or in close games. I think that's a little bit more fun."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.