Tigers option Alburquerque to Toledo
Al Alburquerque’s struggles commanding the strike zone not only cost him his manager’s trust on Wednesday, it also cost him his spot in the Tigers bullpen. The Tigers optioned Alburquerque to Triple-A Toledo on Thursday and called up Evan Reed, who will join the team in Texas.
It’s a stunning move considering the way Alburquerque looked a few weeks ago and the role he was carving in the bullpen with Octavio Dotel on the disabled list. It was less stunning considering Leyland’s remarks after Wednesday’s loss to the Astros.
Alburquerque was enjoying maybe the best stretch of his career three weeks ago, delivering five scoreless innings on one hit with 10 strikeouts over three appearances on the Tigers’ West Coast trip last month. Half of those strikeouts came in two innings against the Angels, throwing 17 of his 20 pitches for strikes, which Alburquerque called the best outing of his career.
A mechanical tweak Alburquerque made with help from pitching coach Jeff Jones had him throwing not only with more consistency, but more deception. Sometime after that, though, Alburquerque’s command went haywire.
The strikeouts are still there, 10 of them over 5 1/3 innings in six outings since then. However, Alburquerque has allowed three runs on seven hits with nine walks. He threw just 56 percent of his pitches for strikes in that stretch, compared to 65 percent in his first nine games.
The last straw for Leyland came Wednesday, when he turned to Alburquerque with two runners on and two out in the eighth to strike out Chris Carter. Alburquerque ran the count full before striking out Carter chasing a slider in the dirt, but but then walked J.D. Martinez on five pitches to lead off the ninth.
With back-to-back switch-hitters due up, the kind of situation that normally favors Alburquerque, Leyland pulled him in favor of Phil Coke, knowing Coke’s struggles against right-handed hitters.
“You can’t let [Alburquerque] walk them,” Leyland said. “I mean, that’s depressing. If I had felt like he was going to throw the ball over the plate, or had shown any signs that he was going to throw it over the plate, I would’ve obviously left him in. But when you’re having trouble and you’re bouncing the ball, that’s not real comfortable.”
The forthcoming seventh-inning situations might not be easy on him, either. Dotel is nowhere close to a return, by Leyland’s admission, and Leyland doesn’t want to wear down Joaquin Benoit early, which was why Alburquerque was pitching in the ninth inning in the first place.
This might be the chance for Jose Ortega to claim a valuable role in the bullpen. He has thrown 6 2/3 scoreless innings on two hits with six strikeouts since coming up from Triple-A Toledo a few weeks ago. The Tigers had been stretching out Ortega to be a multi-inning reliever.
They’ll also see what they have in Reed, a waiver claim from the Miami Marlins last month who has racked up 28 strikeouts over 21 innings at Triple-A Toledo. The 27-year-old will get his first Major League work in his seventh pro season.