Reliever Albers proving valuable to White Sox

Right-hander sees increased velocity, extends scoreless streak with 2 solid frames Saturday

Reliever Albers proving valuable to White Sox

CHICAGO -- Matt Albers wasn't a certainty to return to the 2016 White Sox, with the free agent reliever having designs on working late in games. But Albers' return to the South Side via a one-year, $2.25 million deal with a club option for 2017 has allowed the best of both worlds for the team and the right-hander.

Albers has proven his value in a setup role, mixed in with Nate Jones and Zach Duke, but he also can be stretched out to go a couple of innings. He hurled two scoreless frames against the Indians on Saturday to help complete a come-from-behind 7-3 victory.

"This is a guy who, when his career was earlier, he was pitching a little bit longer or earlier in the game," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. "Because of his experience, now we feel very comfortable with him handling any situation."

Since his arrival prior to the 2015 season, Albers arguably has been the steadiest White Sox reliever. Those two innings Saturday extended his scoreless streak to 26 1/3 innings over 23 appearances, dating back to Aug. 5, 2015.

His career-best streak has featured a 1-0 record with eight holds, 19 hits allowed and 21 strikeouts against five walks. There's also a noticeable velocity increase for Albers, who has averaged 94.6 mph on his velocity this season, per FanGraphs, compared to 91.1 last year and a career average of 92.7.

"I was a little bit surprised that my velocity was up that much," Albers said. "I'm just trying to maintain. I'm just trying to stay within myself, not try to throw too hard. Last year, my velo wasn't up, but I wasn't overthrowing and had success -- just trying to mix those both together. But I'm feeling good."

"He got his pitch back," said White Sox starter Chris Sale, whose second straight 2016 win was secured by Albers' work. "He looks as good as I've ever seen him. His two-seamer looks like a changeup coming in there at 95 or 96 mph. It's awesome. It's fun to watch. He's fired up, and he should be."

Fired up was an understatement for Albers following a strikeout of Carlos Santana to end the eighth Saturday. The calm hurler had a few words of excitement for himself as he walked off the field and might have bruised a few teammates' hands with his intense dugout high-fives.

"I've always enjoyed pitching against old teams I've played for," said a smiling Albers, who was with the Indians in 2013. "I have a lot of friends over there. I liked playing there, and you just kind of get pumped up when you've played with guys. ... That was good to get the win."

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