Whenever Orioles manager Dave Trembley stares out at the field from his seat in the dugout, he sees more than a game in progress. He also catches another glimpse of the team's future.
Last night, his focus settled on pitcher Matt Albers, the reliever-turned-starter who projects as a regular member of the rotation somewhere down the road. That's why the Orioles traded for him over the winter. And that's why many sets of eyes were on him.
Making his first start for the Orioles after three relief appearances, Albers held the Toronto Blue Jays to one run over five innings, and Kevin Millar rewarded him with a two-run, tie-breaking homer in a 4-3 victory before an announced 11,510 at Camden Yards.
Millar deposited a 2-2 slider from Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan (0-1) into the seats in left-center field in the fifth inning after Nick Markakis walked with two outs. Millar also had a run-scoring single in the first.
"It felt good," said Millar, who broke out of a 3-for-26 slump. "The guy had a 96, 97 mph fastball. He was pounding me in, and I was kind of sitting on a breaking ball. It seemed like with runners in scoring position, they always went to that, and I got one."
Pinch hitter Alex Rios' two-run homer in the ninth off closer George Sherrill narrowed the margin but didn't deprive Albers (2-0) of the win. Sherrill recorded his sixth save despite surrendering his first runs of the season.
Of the five hits Albers allowed, only one came on solid contact -- Frank Thomas' line-drive single into center field in the fourth. Albers walked one batter, struck out one and coaxed two double-play balls that ended innings. He threw 83 pitches, 39 more than his previous high this season.
"I'm here for whatever the team needs," he said. "I'll probably be back in the bullpen the next couple days, and I'll be ready to go. Just trying to help this team win. That's the main thing."
Albers, who improved to 4-13 as a starter, including parts of two seasons with the Houston Astros, got the assignment last night because the Orioles needed a starter after Wednesday's rainout in Texas and the doubleheader that ensued Thursday. They didn't want Steve Trachsel or Adam Loewen working on short rest, and they elected to place Jim Johnson in the bullpen after recalling him from Triple-A Norfolk. Johnson threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings after replacing Albers.
There was some internal debate over whether Albers should make the start. He received strong backing from Trembley, though the manager set a relatively low bar for Albers before the game when he said, "If we got five innings out of him, that would be tremendous."
Making it through the first proved a challenge, with Albers allowing a run and throwing 21 pitches. He gave up three straight singles before Thomas hit into a double play that third baseman Melvin Mora started with a backhanded stab along the line.
The Orioles (8-5) tied the score in the bottom of the first on singles by Brian Roberts, Mora and Millar.
"Somebody asked me earlier how I thought he'd do, if he'd be nervous. I didn't think he would after starting 18 times in the big leagues last season," Trembley said. "I told him the other day: 'Don't make a big deal out of it. You've done it before. Keep the game close and throw strikes, and when you've had enough, we'll get you out.' "