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Alburquerque refines fastball to go with slider

DETROIT -- Bruce Rondon's Tommy John surgery left the Tigers needing somebody to step up in their bullpen. If anybody has the potential to do so among the current cast, it is Al Alburquerque.

Two outings and two scoreless innings in, he is at least showing some confidence that he can.

"I feel good," he said after his scoreless 10th inning Wednesday against the Royals.

The Tigers have been through this before. Alburquerque had a dominant April last year, striking out 16 of the first 36 batters he faced while allowing two runs on six hits with just four walks. Then came a command slump that was deep enough to land him in Triple-A Toledo.

This year's start, however, comes off a Spring Training in which Alburquerque found success mixing his devastating slider with a fastball he could command. He allowed a run on eight hits over nine innings with 15 strikeouts, and he generally bought into the emphasis on throwing his fastball more often to keep hitters from sitting on the slider.

It's a work in progress. Alburquerque mixed in three fastballs with his sliders on Opening Day, and none went for strikes. He got a key out with an 0-2 fastball on Wednesday, inducing Alcides Escobar to fly out to right.

When Alburquerque needs to make a pitch, he goes to the slider. That is unlikely to change anytime soon, especially because he can mix a hard slider with a slower one. What has changed is his understanding on using the fastball to set up the slider and at least change the hitter's timing. Whereas most pitchers need secondary offerings to set up their fastball, Alburquerque is the opposite.

"He needs to throw his fastball to make his slider that much better," manager Brad Ausmus said this spring.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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