Slider-inclined Alburquerque improves on fastball
DETROIT -- All the emphasis the Tigers placed on Al Alburquerque in Spring Training about throwing his fastball and locating it might have paid off. Detroit's slider-throwing reliever, known for swing-and-miss stuff but also missing the strike zone for stretches, threw a scoreless inning Wednesday night without a walk or a strikeout, getting three outs on balls put in play.
It was Alburquerque's seventh outing this season without walking a batter, the longest stretch he has had in a single season. He had six such outings in a row last September. The streak ended with a four-pitch walk to Mike Aviles leading off the seventh inning Thursday.
"He's throwing strikes. He's probably been our most consistent guy out of the 'pen right now," manager Brad Ausmus said. "For a lot of the statistics over 11 games, I'm not ready to jump on any bandwagon. It's just too early. I hope he continues to throw the way he's throwing, and I hope he doesn't walk a guy all season. I hope he extends his streak, but 11 games in, jumping on any statistical bandwagon can be a little bit misguided. It's not really enough of a sample."
That said, the streak -- and Alburquerque's pitch selection -- withstood a good test after Matt Wieters hit his fastball out for a home run last homestand. It could have been the excuse Alburquerque needed to get away from his fastball and start pumping sliders again. Instead, he kept with it.
"We're going to have to reinforce that [message]," Ausmus said.
On percentages, Alburquerque has actually thrown more sliders than ever so far this year, nearly three-quarters of his pitches. Of the fastballs he has thrown, though, more than half have been in the strike zone. The Tigers have wanted him throwing enough fastballs, and enough quality ones, to keep hitters from simply sitting on his slider.
Alburquerque regrouped from his walk Thursday by pounding Indians cleanup hitter Carlos Santana with sliders, seven of them, eventually setting him down swinging on an 86-mph slider.