One of the Detroit Tigers’ biggest concerns early in the season has been relief pitching in the seventh inning. The Tigers have had difficulty finding a reliever who can perform consistently between the starting pitcher and the late-inning combination of Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.
With Ryan Perry set to begin a rehab assignment and Joel Zumaya getting further tests on his right elbow, Detroit is still in need of a seventh-inning set-up man. Brayan Villareal looks capable of filling the role with an impressive fastball-slider repertoire (along with a killer pick-off move), but his inexperience gives the Tigers some uncertainty.
Robbie Weinhardt was called up from Triple-A Toledo to take over for Perry when he went on the DL, but hasn’t been able to get hitters out and doesn’t have the pure strikeout stuff that the Tigers seem to prefer from their relief corps.
Alburquerque’s power arsenal in winter ball sold the Tigers on signing him to a Major League contract over the offseason rather than a spring invite. While those pitches impressed team officials in Spring Training, his command did not. He struck out 11 over 6 2/3 spring innings, but he also walked five, including a pair of two-walk performances in the first week of games. He spotted his curveball, but couldn’t command his fastball, a basic no-no.
I’m glad Beck wrote that background, because all I could’ve offered was that I’m less than thrilled that I might have to type Alburquerque’s last name on a regular basis if he sticks with the team.
On a more serious note, I did see Alburquerque’s first two appearances this spring and he was being clocked at 94 m.p.h. So he definitely appears to be the hard-thrower the Tigers want out of the bullpen.
But don’t take it from me; look at the man’s numbers. In three appearances for the Mud Hens this year, Alburquerque threw eight strikeouts in four innings. He also allowed only one walk, which might indicate that he’s controlling his stuff better than he was during the spring.