Tigers call up Alburquerque, option Weinhardt
Alberto Alburquerque didn’t last to the final cuts of Spring Training before he sent out of camp. The way he pitched after that, he didn’t last a week into Triple-A Toledo’s season before getting the call back.
The Tigers recalled Alburquerque from Toledo to join them on their upcoming West Coast trip. He’ll take the roster spot of Robbie Weinhardt, who was optioned back to the Mud Hens.
With Wednesday’s move, Alburquerque will be the next Tigers youngster to try to help shore up middle-inning relief and bridge the gap between Detroit’s starters and setup man Joaquin Benoit. That includes the seventh inning, which has become a committee task 11 games in.
Alburquerque isn’t necessarily going to change that. But he gives them another arm to try.
“I gave Dave [Dombrowski] a lot of credit. We talked about it,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Hey, we all know what’s going on. We’re not going to be afraid to try some things if we see something that we think, ‘Hey, this might be a little bit [better].’ We need to do that until we get in sync. “
Alburquerque’s power arsenal in winter ball sold the Tigers on signing him to a Major League contract over the offseason rather than a spring invite. While those pitches impressed team officials in Spring Training, his command did not. He struck out 11 over 6 2/3 spring innings, but he also walked five, including a pair of two-walk performances in the first week of games. He spotted his curveball, but couldn’t command his fastball, a basic no-no.
That has not been an issue so far. Alburquerque racked up eight strikeouts over four scoreless innings in three appearances, including five strikeouts in a six-out performance Monday at Indianapolis. He threw 21 out of 32 pitches for strikes that day. Organizational reports tabbed his fastball range at 94-98 mph, with an 87-88 mph slider that has shown improvement.
“I know what Alburquerque is,” Leyland said. “If Alburquerque throws the ball over the plate, and not over the middle of the plate, he’s going to get a lot of outs up here.”
Major League hitters’ reactions to those same pitches could be far different. That’s what separates Triple-A from the big leagues. But he wasn’t going to get much closer to that while overpowering Triple-A hitters. And the Tigers weren’t going to get closer to filling their seventh-inning void.
By almost every account, Alburquerque has a late-game reliever’s type of stuff. Whether the 25-year-old veteran of two other organizations has the command and temperament remains to be seen. The Tigers are going to find out.
Weinhardt pitched in two games since his recall from Toledo last week. The right-handed sinkerballer gave up two runs on four hits over 1 2/3 innings.
“They’re just going in a different direction,” Weinhardt said. “I’ve got to get more work in. If you don’t pitch well, you don’t stay. That’s the bottom line.”