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.
Tigers add Belfiore to lefty-heavy Minors 'pen
DETROIT -- The Tigers continued compiling left-handed relief options Thursday by claiming Mike Belfiore off waivers from the Orioles and optioning him to Triple-A Toledo.
The 25-year-old Belfiore, a Boston College product who made his Major League debut for Baltimore last September, was designated for assignment on Sunday to help the O's make room for Delmon Young on their 40-man roster. Belfiore had a decent year at Triple-A Norfolk in 2013, striking out 82 batters over 76 1/3 innings while allowing 81 hits. Left-handed hitters batted .250 against him, compared with a .299 average for righties.
Belfiore joins a Mud Hens bullpen that was already slated to include left-handers Blaine Hardy, Casey Crosby, Nate Robertson and Kenny Faulk. Toledo's rotation includes lefties Kyle Lobstein, Duane Below and Robbie Ray. Detroit's bullpen could feature three lefties for the next week or two if the Tigers use their coming off-days to feature a four-man rotation, sending Drew Smyly to the bullpen to join Phil Coke and Ian Krol.
Romine's Tigers debut delayed by rain
DETROIT -- Mother Nature does not seem to be an Andrew Romine fan.
On the day Romine was slated to make his first start at shortstop for the Tigers, a cold, rainy afternoon washed out Thursday's series finale against the Royals, giving Alex Gonzalez his scheduled off-day but keeping Romine off the field as well.
As a result, Romine will go at least a week without getting into a game. His most recent game was last Friday against the Rays. He played in five games down the stretch in Tigers camp after coming over from the Angels, but Detroit's need to see Gonzalez at shortstop tempered his playing time.
Considering Romine was competing for a utility infield job with the Angels before his trade to the Tigers, he knows how to stay game-ready, having learned from Maicer Izturis on his way up before Izturis went to Toronto.
"Being a guy who comes into the game is a lot different preparation than a guy who starts it," Romine said. "My whole life I had been a starter; almost all of us were. So to be switching over to a bench guy, it's a totally different mindset. To watch him and talk to him was really special, because that guy is so calm and collected in the way that he went about things. He never let his emotions take over. Most of what I got from him was mental."
While Romine has not found his role on the Tigers' roster yet -- partly the left-handed hitting complement to Gonzalez, partly a backup to Ian Kinsler at second base -- he has found a comfort level in the clubhouse, which he credits to the atmosphere and team chemistry.
"It's really weird, because I had been with the same organization from Day 1, so when I came here I didn't know what to expect," he said. "Basically they just kind of accepted me from Day 1 and let me into their clubhouse and into their team. It's fun, man. I didn't expect it. Torii [Hunter] was basically the only guy that I knew before I came here."
• Ausmus said he had been recognized by some fans while out grabbing dinner, moreso than when he was a player in Detroit in the late 1990s. "We weren't very good," he deadpanned.
• Max Scherzer's eight scoreless innings on four hits Wednesday made him just the third Cy Young Award winner to post those numbers in the first start of his follow-up season. Justin Verlander did it in 2012 (two hits, eight scoreless), as did Atlanta's Tom Glavine (two hits, nine scoreless) in 1992.