Results tagged ‘ Al Alburquerque ’

Leyland on Alburquerque/Veras decisions

Jose Veras was last spotted warming up during Max Scherzer’s 7th inning in Game 1. When the Tigers went to Drew Smyly in the 8th, Veras wasn’t seen again, shelved in favor or Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit. He didn’t warm up at all in Game 2, and he was spotted before the game with his shoulder wrapped.

Is this the case of a role change, or something else?

“Alburquerque has had kind of a hot hand,” Jim Leyland said Sunday, “so he’s been getting some strike outs. He kind of had a hot hand and that’s why we went with him.  But we’ll be using Veras in the series.  Absolutely nothing wrong with him.”

Sunday’s off-day should mean everybody available in Detroit’s bullpen, though Alburquerque’s 22 pitches in Game 2 might warrant checking on his status Monday morning.

Alburquerque had been rolling into this postseason with the best month of his season, and he continued it with back-to-back strikeouts on sliders to keep the game tied after eight innings. He came back out in the ninth, though, and saw the A’s hit back-to-back singles on sliders after he fell behind in the count.

Veras last pitched in the opener at Miami with a 25-pitch eighth inning. He’s apparently healthy, but Leyland opted against his setup man in the eighth inning of Friday’s ALDS opener.

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.

Girardi: Alburquerque’s move is a balk (updated)

I couldn’t hear the FOX broadcast (yeah, yeah, I know), so I don’t know what was said during the time when Joe Girardi was going back and forth with Jerry Layne from the dugout, but Girardi talked about it after the game. He says Al Alburquerque’s move home is a balk.

Here’s what Girardi told the New York writers in his postgame session:

“I think Albuquerque balks every time. One time his foot goes up twice. One time it goes up once. If a guy’s trying to steal a base and he goes up twice one time and goes up once one time, if you’re going to squeeze, you don’t know when to go as the runner. I think it’s a balk.”

Clearly, Jerry Layne doesn’t agree.

“Obviously he doesn’t think it’s a balk,” Girardi said. “There’s a couple of umpires out there that can see that and call that.”

For the record, Alburquerque has been called for a balk twice in his Major League career. Girardi saw one of them, because the first was in Game 4 the 2011 AL Division Series against the Yankees. That came in a similar situation with a runner on third; in that case the bases were loaded.

The other balk came last September 29 at Minnesota with a runner on first.

“I think it’s a balk,” Girardi said. “I don’t think there’s any question about it.”

UPDATE: Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones disagrees with Girardi’s comments, not surprisingly. All the same, he talked with Alburquerque about it this morning and had him outside for some extra work on it.

“Personally, I don’t think what he does is a balk,” Jones said, “but I don’t want to get into a situation where another umpire calls it. … We’re going to try to eliminate any doubt.”

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.

Alburquerque headed to Hens

Not exactly breaking news, but it’s a mile post on the road back for Al Alburquerque to the Tigers bullpen. His minor-league rehab assignment has been moved from Class A Lakeland to Triple-A Toledo.

Alburquerque, working his way back from elbow surgery last December, gave up two runs on three hits in his first rehab appearance for the Flying Tigers, then tossed 2 2/3 scoreless innings on two hits in three outings after that. Nine of the 10 outs he recorded in Lakeland were strikeouts. Five of the six balls put in play against him went for base hits. He walked one batter.

Alburquerque has about 19 days left of possible rehab time before the Tigers have to make a decision on whether to activate him. Whether Detroit uses all of those days isn’t clear.

Rare hanging slider costs Alburquerque dearly

Alburquerque's pitches to LH batters (fangraphs.com)

Tigers fans don’t need to be reminded how important Al Alburquerque has been to the bullpen this season, and how nasty of a pitch his slider has been all year. For quite possibly the first time in his brief big league career, he threw one that was devastating to the Tigers’ fortunes.

“He threw a slider, and it didn’t do anything,” manager Jim Leyland said. “One of the best hitters in baseball hit it out.”

For that, all the Tigers could do about Robinson Cano’s sixth-inning grand slam was tip their cap. They had one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball this year throwing his best pitch. Cano was too good to miss a mistake.

Nearly three of every five swings at Alburquerque’s slider missed, according to STATS Inc., including a third of swings when the pitch was actually in the strike zone. It allowed him a lot of forgiveness for an upper-90s fastball that could be hit and miss.

Combine the arsenal, and he didn’t give up a home run in 43 1/3 innings in the regular season. But it was the strikeout potential that prompted Leyland to turn to him in that situation, with a 4-1 deficit and Cano up following Doug Fister’s two-out walk to Curtis Granderson to load the bases.

“If Granderson would’ve got a hit to make it 6-2, I would have brought in [lefty Daniel] Schlereth,” Leyland said. “But after he didn’t, we loaded the bases. Left-handers are hitting .177 off Alburquerque, .200 off Schlereth. Cano is [batting] .320 off of left-handers, .295 off righties. Alburquerque has had a tremendous ratio of swings and misses.”

Alburquerque faced Cano soon after his call-up to Detroit, in early May, and struck him out.

“That wasn’t the reason for it,” Leyland continued. “I felt that one of the reasons he’s been so valuable for us is he gets both righties and lefties out. He’s been tremendous, one of the best in all of baseball in swinging and missing. That’s the reason.”

Alburquerque, whose English is limited, politely declined comment after the game. Avila, who has caught Alburquerque ever since the Tigers called him up in late April, explained the setup.

“He’s got two sliders, one that he throws for a strike and one that normally goes out of the zone,” Avila said. “I think he just tried to make too good of a pitch there, and it just kind of stayed up. That happens.”

The first version, the one for a strike, was his first pitch to Cano, who took it. The second pitch was meant to be the sharper one, the one that falls out of the zone. He uses it when he’s ahead in the count and gets aggressive hitters swinging and missing.

It can be unpredictable, which is why he has the other slider. But when he misses it, it usually still breaks. This one spun, an 85 mph pitch about middle-up on the inner half.

“Normally it goes straight down,” Avila said. “That one didn’t really do anything.”

Cano belted it to right field for his first postseason home run, and the first by a Yankee since Ricky Ledee in the 1999 ALCS. He also improved to 9-for-19 with four grand slams and 31 RBIs with the bases loaded this year.

It was the far from a first for him. It was a first for Alburquerque.

“Tough spot for him to come in,” Avila said, “but he’s got the stuff to be able to get guys out there, and he will. It’s part of the game.”

Updating the potential roster picture: Friday

What ended up being a regrettable finale for Jacob Turner ended up being a good day for helping the Tigers sort out their bullpen. Al Alburquerque got the inning he needed, and while he wasn’t as sharp as he’ll need to be come postseason play in a week, he was healthy. He’ll sit on Friday, then Jim Leyland hopes to test him with an inning each on Saturday and Sunday.

Assuming Alburquerque gets through that, I’d say he’s pretty much a lock for the postseason roster, leaving Leyland and the Tigers with one less bullpen decision. If you count the guys who are good to go (Valverde, Benoit, Schlereth, Coke, Alburquerque if he’s healthy), it could leave with maybe only one or two.

“I don’t think there’s any secret we’re looking,” Leyland said. “That’s as simple as it is. There’s no sense in trying to hide that from the players. There’s no sense in trying to hide that from the media, the fans. At some point, we’re going to have to decide on a roster.”

Some of that could depend on who the Tigers face. A meeting with the Yankees or Red Sox could place a premium on lefty relievers for a pitching staff that doesn’t have a lefty starter. Granted, the Tigers like some of their righties against left-handed hitters, especially Benoit and Alburquerque, but that doesn’t mean they’ll try to leverage that strength rather than play an opponent’s weakness.

Duane Below isn’t a lefty reliever by the stereotype, but he’s a lefty. And while lefties have hit him a little bit harder, his strikeout-to-walk ratio against them in his limited time is much stronger. It’s that skill that would be a stronger ticket onto the postseason roster than long relief, which becomes less of a necessity in a short series but still potentially useful for damage control later in the series. If the Tigers have to reliever Justin Verlander or Doug Fister early in one of the first two games, they have much deeper trouble than long relief.

That same issue seemingly doesn’t play in Pauley’s favor, being right-hander. But while he took the loss, Leyland said he looked better.

“In fairness to him, he really hasn’t gotten to pitch a whole lot since he’s been here,” Leyland said. “So we’re trying to get him some work as well.”

Perry, Leyland said, looked better as well. He’s had more good outings lately, Leyland said, than subpar ones.

“But he still needs a little more consistency,” Leyland said.

For a postseason pitching staff, if the decision’s on talent, there’s a spot for Perry, the former first-round pick with a penchant for quick, solid innings. But he might help his case just as much of he can avoid breakdowns like he had in Oakland, though that one admittedly came the afternoon after the Tigers’ division celebration.

The Tigers still need to know more on Wilson Betemit and Carlos Guillen before they can make decisions on the positional roster. If Betemit’s fine, their decisions whittle down tremendously. Guillen said he isn’t sure about his readiness for the postseason in a week. He can neither run nor swing a bat yet, and his Thursday work was limited to therapy.

Betemit, meanwhile, has hopes of playing Friday. Assuming he’s ready for the postseason, he slots in well as part of a third-base mix with Brandon Inge. Right field could be a three-man mix with Magglio Ordonez, Don Kelly and Andy Dirks. Yes, Dirks and Kelly both bat left-handed, but if the Tigers choose to keep Dirks, that could free up Kelly for a late-inning role in the outfield or third base. Dirks also brings some speed to him.

Add the Santiago/Raburn mix at second, and if the Tigers keep Dirks, they’re left with one more position spot, and a few different ways they can go.

- They could protect themselves at catcher by keeping Omir Santos. Yes, they have the option of making a roster move mid-series if Alex Avila were to be injured. But if they did that, by rule, he would have to miss the next round. That’s a huge conundrum if Avila were to have a day-to-day injury. Leyland said Thursday he can catch Martinez if he wanted, surprising all of us. But the fact remains that he hasn’t, not even for an inning in a blowout.

- They could go with another runner with Will Rhymes, and a batter who can lay down a bunt in a key situation. That might make better sense in the later rounds than it does now, but it’s still possible.

- They could add Guillen if he’s healthy. That’s sounding like a big if right now.

- They could add Danny Worth, but that would seemingly make more sense if Betemit or another infielder isn’t able to go.

Postseason roster, rotation getting a few hints

Jim Leyland isn’t close to determining his postseason roster or rotation, he said Tuesday. But he laid a few hints towards the formation of it.

  • Jacob Turner will start Thursday’s series opener against Baltimore. Doug Fister will be pushed up tomorrow night to piggyback Max Scherzer’s start here in Kansas City. Leyland didn’t explain it, but he didn’t have to: Five days from Wednesday is next Monday, and five days from that is Saturday, the date for Game 2 of the AL Division Series. By moving up Fister, Leyland gives himself the option of starting Fister in Game 2 on regular rest.
  • Leyland said he’s “95 percent sure we will have an extra player, because we will have 11 pitchers.” The Tigers need just four starters for the postseason, not five. That spot that would normally go to a starter can go to either a reliever or a position player. Leyland all but confirmed it’s a position player.
  • Leyland said he doesn’t think Victor Martinez will catch a game again this regular season. Combine this bullet point with the one above, and Omir Santos’ chances of making the postseason roster as a backup catcher look better than they did last week.
  • No idea yet whether Carlos Guillen will be ready for the postseason. Guillen said today he’s feeling a little better, but it’s still very sore, and he still can’t so much as hit. He’s believed to be another candidate for that final spot, but Leyland confirmed that if Guillen can’t play in a regular season game the rest of the way, he won’t be on the Division Series roster.
  • Al Alburquerque is slated to pitch in relief tonight. If that goes all right, he should be good to go for the playoffs.
  • Leyland confirmed what he had already strongly suggested: Justin Verlander will be set up to pitch Game 1 and Game 5 in the Division Series.

Alburquerque to rehab with Triple-A Toledo

A day after Al Alburquerque threw another bullpen session and felt fine, he has been cleared to resume pitching again. Since he hasn’t pitched in a game in almost a month, though, the Tigers are going to take advantage of the few days left in the minor league seasons and send him out for a short rehab assignment.

Alburquerque will throw an inning for Triple-A Toledo on Saturday at Columbus. Nothing has been confirmed beyond that. The Mud Hens’ final game is Monday at home, so it’s conceivable Alburquerque could get one more game before he’s activated from the disabled list next week.

Though the Tigers have found some bullpen depth without Alburquerque, one look at Thursday’s game shows where they miss him. When they needed a strikeout reliever with runners at second and third and one out in the seventh inning, their choice was Luis Marte in his Major League debut. If they had Alburquerque, chances are it would’ve been him. They don’t have another middle-inning guy with that kind of strikeout rate right now.

Alburquerque throwing, Boesch not swinging

Mixed news on the Tigers injury front today. The good news for them came from Al Alburquerque, who was cleared to begin throwing again and was set to throw a side session this afternoon. Jim Leyland told MLB Network Radio that they hope to have him ready to come off the 15-day disabled list around Sept. 1, and he echoed that sentiment to reporters later.

Alburquerque hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 9. While he has been out, Phil Coke has found his old form to take over a big role in setup duties, and Ryan Perry has made an impression with his consistency. Add Alburquerque to this group, and the Tigers bullpen looks a lot deeper than it did a couple months ago.

“That would be music to our ears if we could get him going,” Leyland said.

The flip side of that is the situation they face with Brennan Boesch, who has been diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar colateral ligament in his right thumb. He’s going to need surgery, but the Tigers are hoping they can get it comfortable enough that Boesch can play out the season and then have offseason surgery.

“What we’re trying to do,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Monday, “is work with the stability of the thumb.”

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