Alburquerque feels healthy, looks ready
Al Alburquerque feels like he can pitch in the big leagues if the Tigers want him. His latest outing might have been the last hurdle to getting him back to Detroit in time for the stretch run.
For the first time since Alburquerque started pitching in games again five weeks ago, he pitched on back-to-back days. His second outing Wednesday night looked arguably as good as any he has had at Triple-A Toledo, tossing a perfect inning and striking out side in order against Indianapolis.
Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said Alburquerque will be evaluated on Thursday to see how he feels physically after those two outings. As long as he checks out OK, Nevin said, the Tigers have a decision to make with rosters set to expand on Friday.
It won’t be Nevin’s decision, though he’ll surely have some input. From what he sees, at least, Alburquerque looks healthy.
“He looks fine to me,” Nevin said. “It was a positive to see how he handled [Wednesday] pitching on back-to-back days.”
Alburquerque isn’t all the way back to last year’s dominant form that made him a high-strikeout specialist in Detroit’s bullpen. His fastball is closer to the mid-90s than the 99 mph heater he had at times last year. He said he has topped out at 97 so far. On Wednesday, he got his fastball up to 95-96 mph consistently.
As long as he has his slider, he can work with that. He finished off his final batter, former Tigers prospect Jeff Larish, by alternating fastballs up and out with sliders down and in. Larish swung and missed at the slider three times, every other pitch.
Usually with pitchers coming off elbow surgeries, as Alburquerque had last winter, the slider is a pitch that takes time to hone again. As least from Wednesday’s look, it’s back.
“His slider’s just gotten more snap as we’ve gone along,” Nevin said. “Each day, he’s gotten better and better command.”
Albuerquerque threw 10 of his 17 pitches for strikes on Wednesday, including back-to-back called strikes with a fastball and a slider to strike out Brandon Boggs.
For his part, Alburquerque said the slider hasn’t been his toughest pitch to get back.
“The two-seamer is better right now,” he said. “In the past, I couldn’t throw the two-seamer. … No problem with my slider, just my two-seamer.”
More important, Alburquerque said, he has a routine to get his arm ready before a game. In the past, he said, he would just warm up in the bullpen, throw some pitches and go out there, which might explain part of his injury history.
“I’ve got a routine before I pitch,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t have a routine. Everything I do here, I have a routine. My trainer has helped me a lot. I feel a lot of pride, because I have a routine to pitch.”
Asked if he’s ready healthwise, he said, “Right now, I feel strong. Sometimes I feel sore, but I know I can throw in the game. I feel strong. I feel happy for everything I have right now.”
Alburquerque has allowed two runs on nine hits over 10 2/3 innings at Toledo, walking four and striking out 18. Fifteen of those strikeouts have come over his last six outings, covering 7 2/3 innings.