August 4th, 2011

Alburquerque’s return crucial for Tigers

Alexi Ogando denied the Tigers a chance at a sweep of the Rangers. If Al Alburquerque is truly right with his arm, as he looked on Thursday, this might still end up being a huge game for the Tigers.

The Tigers now have David Pauley as another right-hander for the middle innings, but that doesn’t change one big fact about their bullpen makeup: They need Alburquerque and his strikeouts. His pitching Thursday in his first game action since July 24 suggests he has it back.

“Right now, I want to be healthy. No more injuries,” Alburquerque said afterwards.

Alburquerque missed nearly two weeks with inflammation around the ulnar nerve of his right elbow. He was cleared to pitch Tuesday and warmed up that night for a possible appearance, but never entered the game. With two outs in the eighth inning, he had his chance.

It was a three-run game, but manager Jim Leyland admitted later he was nervous like it was a closer than that.

“I was so thrilled when he went back out [for the ninth],” manager Jim Leyland said, “because the slider was 87 [mph] again and the fastball was 97 a few times. He hadn’t pitched in nine or 10 days, and he was probably a little tentative. He was probably wondering himself a little bit.

“I was alarmed, to be honest, after the first hitter. I was concerned. And then I saw it pick up, so I relaxed a little bit.”

The first hitter was a five-pitch walk to Ian Kinsler. Alburquerque settled down to retire the next four batters, including a strikeout of Josh Hamilton swinging at one of his nastier sliders.

“I felt a little shy at first, but I didn’t feel nervous,” Alburquerque said. “I felt really good today.”

That might be the best news to come  out of Thursday’s loss for the Tigers, who have had to juggle relievers to get through sixth and seventh innings without him.

Thursday: Tigers vs. Ogando, er, Rangers

The Rangers have beaten the Tigers twice in eight tries so far this season. Both times, Alexi Ogando was the starter and winning pitcher. Today, after a pair of one-run victories, Ogando stands between the Tigers and a series sweep.

As Jim Leyland forewarned, Ryan Raburn has a second straight start, and Andy Dirks is in center field. But instead of Raburn at designated hitter, he’s in right field. That gives Miguel Cabrera a day out of the field at DH, and earns Don Kelly his first start at first base this season. If you’re counting, that’s now five different spots where Kelly has started this season.

Add in Ramon Santiago at short for Jhonny Peralta, and the Tigers have four switch-hitters, three left-handed batters and two right-handed hitters in their lineup.

TIGERS

  1. Andy Dirks, CF
  2. Don Kelly, 1B
  3. Brennan Boesch, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, DH
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Carlos Guillen, 2B
  7. Wilson Betemit, 3B
  8. Ryan Raburn, RF
  9. Ramon Santiago, SS

P: Brad Penny (15th day game start this year)

RANGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS
  3. Josh Hamilton, LF
  4. Michael Young, DH
  5. Nelson Cruz, RF
  6. Mike Napoli, C
  7. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  8. Andres Blanco, 3B
  9. Endy Chavez, CF

P: Alexi Ogando

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