June 16th, 2011

Leyland using Alburquerque judiciously

A month ago, it would’ve been difficult to envision Jim Leyland turning to Al Alburquerque to protect a lead with the bases loaded. He can get a strikeout when he needs one, but the risk of backfire with a walk and no base open would just be too big the way he was pitching.

If Leyland had some alternatives, he might not be turning to him either. But with Joaquin Benoit pitching setup and Jose Valverde closing, and four left-handers in the bullpen, Alburquerque is the only right-hander available for the seventh inning or earlier.

“The point is,” Leyland said, “who do you bring in?”

For more reasons than one, Leyland has to watch his situations with Alburquerque. For better or for worse, Thursday was one. Alberquerque’s fly out from Adam Everett for the third out made it for the better.

It isn’t a situation where a strikeout is any better than an out put in play, but under the circumstances, Leyland felt Alburquerque had the best chance at an out there. He could’ve let Scherzer face Everett and put in a lefty against Sizemore, but he didn’t want to wait for that.

Alburquerque needed two sliders to get Everett. The first, he spotted for strike one. The second got a swing and a fly ball. He stayed on to pitch the seventh, albeit with a pair of 3-0 counts, and handed the lead to Benoit for the eighth.

It marked Alburquerque’s first string of pitching back-to-back days since the end of May, and his first string of three outings in four days in nearly a month. It’s a little unusual for an improving young reliever, but Leyland has to protect the arm right now.

“I got a little problem one week ago in my elbow,” Alburquerque said after Thursday’s game.

It was pain, Alburquerque said, when he threw his slider. That’s not necessarily unusual. But for someone whose slider unusually accounts for more than half of his pitches, obviously, that’s not good. But some rehab work with the medical staff, he said, has it feeling better.

It puts a little extra importance on the fastball, potentially to keep him from throwing too many sliders and putting too much more stress on the elbow. If he’s going to throw the fastball, he has to command it.

“Right now, I’m trying to come back with my fastball,” Alburquerque said. “I got sometimes scared to trust my slider. I tried to come back working with my two-seamer, too.”

Alburquerque hasn’t given up a run over his last 10 outings, covering nine innings in which he has struck out 16.

It’s an interesting factor for a bullpen that doesn’t have anyone else who can do quite what he can. At some point, the Tigers are going to add a right-handed reliever. Ideally, it would be Ryan Perry, if he can show he has fixed his early-season issues at Triple-A Toledo. If that doesn’t happen, though, it isn’t hard to envision right-handed middle relief on the Tigers’ priority list before the July 31 trade deadline.

Thursday: Tigers vs. Indians

Leyland said he was weighing whether to catch Alex Avila or use him at DH. He opted for the DH spot. Combine that with another Leyland point, that he’s weighing whether to start Avila at third base on Friday, and it’s possible he’ll get back-to-back games at a position other than catcher.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Don Kelly, 3B
  3. Brennan Boesch, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Magglio Ordonez, RF
  7. Alex Avila, DH
  8. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  9. Ryan Raburn, 2B

P: Max Scherzer

INDIANS

  1. Grady Sizemore, DH
  2. Carlos Santana, C
  3. Michael Brantley, CF
  4. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  5. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  6. Matt LaPorta, 1B
  7. Travis Buck, LF
  8. Cord Phelps, 2B
  9. Adam Everett, 3B

Inge to go on rehab with Mud Hens

While the Tigers are out west for Interleague Play over the next week, Brandon Inge will be on the road for International League play (see what I did there) with the Mud Hens in Louisville and Columbus. The Tigers confirmed Thursday morning that Inge is headed out on a Minor League rehab assignment.

Inge, who went on the 15-day DL two weeks ago with mono, had said earlier in the week that he wanted to come back as soon as he was ready. He’s eligible to come off the DL on Friday, but he said he thought better of it once he picked up his activity level beyond batting practice and infield work.

“I know usually I want to come back as fast as I can, and I still do,” Inge said. “But after working out the first two days, I realized I need to go, because it’s different. It’s like once you have to do something physical, it’s a different type of tired. I think I need to let my body get back into the daily grind.”

In other words, Inge needs to get into baseball shape again. He’ll serve as the designated hitter tonight at Louisville and then start playing at third base. The plan is for him to play six games.

Meanwhile, it sounds like Jim Leyland will be following through on his idea to use Alex Avila at third base with the Tigers to help survive the next week without the DH. Leyland said he’s considering starting Avila at third Friday night at Colorado.

Leyland: Dirks pinch-hit for Jackson to try to draw walk

Once the Indians took a 6-4 lead into the ninth inning, everyone expected Chris Perez to take the mound and close the game against the top of the Tigers lineup. Manager Jim Leyland’s counter-move was very much unexpected: Andy Dirks pinch-hitting for Austin Jackson, whose job as leadoff man is to get on base for the middle of the order.

Left-handed batters hit 50 points higher than right-handed ones against Perez, but at .229 to .179, it’s not necessarily a vast difference. However, that wasn’t the reason for Leyland to make the move.

“It was very simple,” Leyland said. “That guy, obviously, has been throwing very well. But at times, he can get wild, and I felt like Dirks had a better chance to walk than Jackson. We were taking strike one, obviously to try to get the tying run to the plate, and just felt that he had a better chance to walk maybe than AJ.

“You know, AJ might have gotten a line-drive base hit. Who knows? I just felt like in that situation, that guy gets a little wild, then I think he’s got a better chance to get a walk, get on base. I’m trying to get one guy on there for the big guys coming up.”

For what it’s worth, Perez’s splits show left-handed hitters drawing 10 of Perez’s 12 walks on the season, an imbalance that far outweighs the at-bat difference. For the season, though, Jackson’s walk rate is just about equal to that of Dirks since the Tigers called him up last month, albeit with far different sample sizes.

Perez was among the surprised, and he wasn’t shy talking about it.

“I was,” he said. “I’ll take it. Jackson is a better hitter than Dirks, in my opinion. But I’ll take it. I know my splits against lefties or righties aren’t the best, but it doesn’t matter. I’d much rather face a rookie in Andy Dirks than Austin Jackson, who finished second or third in the rookie of the year voting last year. And he’s seen me six times so he knows what I’ve got. Dirks had never seen me before so I think the advantage was me.”

Dirks struck out on three pitches, with a swing and miss at a slider.

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