BOSTON -- This year is Matt Albers' first with the Red Sox after spending three years with the Orioles, and it happens to be shaping up as the best year of his career.
The 28-year-old posted a 4.60 ERA in his time with Baltimore, a club that non-tendered him this offseason. Thanks to an arm that seems to have simply gained velocity, as well as more reliance on his slider than his curve, Albers' ERA has dipped to 2.55. The rest of his numbers have improved, too.
But in his former teammates' eyes, Albers might have stepped over the line in a tense 10-3 Boston win on Friday.
Albers hurled two perfect innings and struck out four, including the last batter he faced. As he walked off the mound in the seventh after blowing an 0-2 fastball by shortstop J.J. Hardy, he did a fist pump and appeared on replay to turn and say something in the direction of the Orioles' dugout.
"[I] kind of maybe took a look over there," Albers said. "I mean, it's not something I'm very proud of, it's not something I should've done. Let my pitching speak for itself. I just kind of got caught up in the moment over there. I didn't say anything, but it's kind of one of those things that happened, got a little caught up. It's one of those things."
While frustrations didn't boil over until an inning later Friday, when there was a bench-clearing fracas in the eighth, the O's had a different point of view.
Baltimore took exception to several things coming out of the home dugout, but the O's felt slighted in particular by Albers, whom they believed fired some choice words from the mound to his former club.
Albers allegedly used several expletives directed the Orioles' way, an event that didn't sit kindly with the team, closer Kevin Gregg included. The fracas kicked off when Gregg came on in the eighth and threw inside to David Ortiz.
"Not really," Albers said when asked if he still felt anything toward his former team. "I think I kind of got caught up in the moment a little bit maybe."
As for Albers' effectiveness this year, the radar gun readings are striking. According to fangraphs.com, his fastball has averaged 93.8 mph, one full mile per hour faster than he did last year, and 0.8 better than his previous career-high (2007, '09). His slider is up nearly two full ticks, at 86.8 mph, and he's throwing it 25.5 percent of the time, by far a career high.
"He truly hasn't been that 90-mph sink," Sox pitching coach Curt Young said. "He's been 92, 93, 94 consistently with his fastball. ... I think it's really put him over the hump."
Young said there wasn't anything specific to point to for the boost, and Albers said he hadn't noticed it.
"I don't think so. I don't know, nice healthy arm," Young said. "We're trying not to overuse him. When he's throwing the baseball good, you'd like to use him as much as possible. There's been periods where we've given him some good rest, kind of rejuvenate his arm a little bit."
"I don't pay attention to it too much, I don't really turn around [and] look [at the radar gun readings]," Albers said. "Every once in a while I'll check and see where the slider's at. I felt more comfortable with the slider. The slider's something I added in last year. [I] started throwing it and just felt more comfortable this year. ... We've kept everything pretty much the same. Just rest and stuck with my shoulder problem. I don't know really what it is."
Beckett to test left knee Sunday in side session
BOSTON -- Josh Beckett's status for Tuesday's All-Star game will likely be decided after throwing a side session on Sunday, manager Terry Francona said before Saturday's game with the Orioles.
Beckett sustained a mild hyperextension of his left knee during Friday's 10-3 win after he slipped on a wet mound, though Francona thinks the team may have dodged a bullet as the results could have been much worse.
"Josh is going to go out and play catch today, which he'd normally do," Francona said. "Tomorrow morning, he'll throw a side [session], and we'll kind of reevaluate him from there -- obviously not just for his start going forward with us, but All-Star ramifications."
Francona said the club doesn't want to hold up Major League Baseball, but he needs to be careful with his ace, especially with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz currently on the 15-day disabled list.
"If he's OK, he's OK," Francona said of Beckett, who held the O's to three runs while picking up his eighth win. "If he needs to hold off, we'll do that also. We certainly respect the All-Star stuff, but we also have an obligation to our team. He understands that, and he'll be honest about it."
With injuries piling up to the starting rotation, it makes Kyle Weiland's Major League debut on Sunday even more important.
"There's always some talk of, 'OK, does this kid transition into the bullpen as a seventh- or eighth-inning guy?'" Francona said. "But you certainly want to see if they can start first. He's taken his starters' innings, and he's started to strike out a lot of guys. That's always a first priority.
"So it'll be fun. Other than that, I haven't seen him pitch. I've certainly watched the reports, but we're excited about this. I'm not glad we're all banged up, but when you get to bring kids up like this, it is really exciting for us."
Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.