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.