Scranton/Wilkes-Barre closer Jonathan Albaladejo
entered this season with only 18 saves in a professional career that began in 2001.
This year, Albaladejo has done more than double that career total. He's set an International League record by closing out 40 victories for the Yankees, surpassing the previous single-season high of 38 set by Richmond's Matt Whiteside in 2004.
"I didn't know it was going to feel like this," Albaladejo admitted after breaking the record on Aug. 16 at Toledo. "I'm still excited about it."
Albaladejo is 3-2 with a 1.35 ERA and 76 strikeouts over 60 innings in 53 games for the Yankees. The 27-year-old right-hander has earned a save or win in 43 of his team's 75 wins (57 percent), helping Scranton/Wilkes-Barre build a seven-game lead atop the North Division.
What's more, Albaladejo has blown just one save opportunity, a game against Pawtucket on June 16 that the Yankees won in the bottom of the ninth inning. He's a big reason Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is 30-11 (.732 winning percentage) in one-run games; no other IL team has a .600 percentage in such contests.
"I've told countless people that I don't know where we'd be without Albaladejo," Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Dave Miley said. "He's a big part of what we've been able to accomplish so far."
Albaladejo's long road to the record began with the Pirates, who drafted him in 2001 but released him early in 2007 due to a back problem. He signed as a free agent with Washington and eventually finished the year with the Nationals, posting a 1.88 ERA in 14 Major League games.
Albaladejo was traded to the Yankees in December 2007 and has split time between New York and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre the previous two seasons. He tied the IL record against Toledo on Aug. 13 and broke it three days later in appearances that certainly caught the attention of Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish.
"He's marching it up there at 95 and he has a good breaking ball," Parrish said. "There's a big gap between his fastball and his off-speed stuff.
"But he also has the right makeup. He likes to be out there when the game is on the line."
Albaladejo said two key changes have helped him blow well past his previous single-season high of 11 saves set last year.
"I'm able to throw my four-seam fastball for strikes more than I have," he said. "Last year, I used more of a two-seamer, and I really didn't know where I was throwing it. And my curveball has been great. I think it gets hitters off-balance because it's lower than the fastball or slider."
Despite his impressive Triple-A performance this season, Albaladejo has pitched in only two games for the parent club in New York. But Miley is struck by the fact that the Puerto Rico native hasn't pouted or complained, despite numbers that scream for a callup to the Major Leagues.
"Obviously, he'd like to be at the next level," Miley said of Albaladejo. "But he deserves a tip of the cap for continuing to work hard, do his job and work with [pitching coach] Scott Aldred to get better."
The playoff race: The only race that has been decided is in the South Division, where Durham clinched the title Friday. In the North, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre begins the week with a six-game lead over Buffalo -- the Yankees' magic number to clinch is 13 -- while Louisville and Columbus are neck-and-neck for the West Division title. The good news for both clubs is that the second-place team is the Wild Card leader by a slim margin over Buffalo.
Top "Rank": Toledo's Matt Rankin was named the IL's Trainer of the Year by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society. Rankin, the first Mud Hens trainer to receive the award, has spent the past decade with Toledo and has worked in the Detroit organization for 15 years.
He said it: "At times, Louisville and Scranton have seemed uncatchable. But that's just how it is. You have to keep plugging away and not worry about what's going on somewhere else. You try to have good at-bats every night, play good defense and get the great pitching we've been getting. They've given us the chance to do the things we've done offensively." -- Buffalo IF Russ Adams told the Buffalo News. The Bisons are 15-3 this month, a key reason they remain in both the North Division and Wild Card races.