7/20/2014 12:35 A.M. ET
Alburquerque unable to escape during Friday's jam
By Jason Beck and Matt Slovin / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Al Alburquerque came within a pitch of pulling off the escape in Friday night's 9-3 loss to the Indians. He succumbed to the home run on the pitch that had kept the ball in the park for him so often to begin his career.
"It's the big leagues. If you make a mistake, you're going to pay," Alburquerque said Saturday, a day after Jason Kipnis' home run denied him from stranding runners at second and third in a tie game with nobody out.
It's a high-wire act of sorts for Alburquerque, entering in big jams in close games with less than two outs. His escapes are spectacular, while his hits are big.
It was the first time this season Alburquerque entered a game with two runners in scoring position and less than two outs. He had entered two such jams with two outs and escaped them, though he had the walkoff balk in Cleveland on May 21.
He stranded runners at second and third after entering with one out in a tie game last Sept. 17 against the Mariners and earned the win when the Tigers pulled ahead in the seventh inning. Two weeks before that, he inherited a bases-loaded, no-out jam in Boston in a two-run game and left with a nine-run deficit thanks to two home runs.
On Friday, Alburquerque said, he paid for leaving his slider up in the strike zone after back-to-back strikeouts denied the Indians a sacrifice fly opportunity. Though manager Brad Ausmus said after the game he suspected Kipnis was sitting on the slider, Alburquerque said it wouldn't have mattered if he could've buried it.
"I wanted to throw it down," he said. "I knew my slider was moving like a cutter."
It was up, though catcher Alex Avila said it wasn't up by much.
"I wouldn't say it was a terrible pitch," Avila said, "but obviously trying to look for the strikeout there, it probably caught a little bit more plate rather than going down and in. But you're talking about centimeters. That's all it takes."
He ended up giving up homers on back-to-back pitches, pushing his total to six -- four on sliders, two on fastballs. He gave up five home runs all of last season, and none in two regular seasons before that.
Scherzer battles past pregame neck spasms
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer threw a season-high 118 pitches in Saturday night's 5-2 loss to the Indians. For a minute, it was questionable whether he'd throw one.
That's how serious of a concern the Tigers had about neck spasms that flared up as he was warming in the bullpen.
"We almost scratched him," manager Brad Ausmus said after the game. "He was able to get it stretched out, get it loosened up to the point where he can pitch."
It wasn't an ideal situation. Under the circumstances, however, it was workable.
"I could go," Scherzer said. "At the end of the day, I know my body, I know I was capable of going, and I wanted to go. At the end of the day, I don't make excuses about any ailments. I go out there and I give you everything I've got."
Scherzer said he has dealt with it in the past, but to a lesser extent. This was more serious, and it flared up as soon as he went out to the bullpen for his pregame warmups, less than a half-hour before the scheduled first pitch.
"As soon as I started throwing, I could feel it," he said. "I tried to make the adjustments that were necessary to allow me to pitch tonight and I was able to do that. For me, it's really a non-issue."
It was clearly an issue for the Tigers, who sent Rick Porcello racing to the bullpen as an emergency backup. Porcello hasn't pitched since last Saturday, and he isn't scheduled to start until Tuesday in Arizona.
"Rick Porcello would've pitched," Ausmus said. "He did not warm up but we sent him to the bullpen just before the game started in case there had to be a quick maneuver."
Scherzer not only managed, he endured. It wasn't his deepest outing, just 5 2/3 innings before Chris Dickerson's second home run of the night led Ausmus to go to his bullpen, but it was his highest pitch count.
"My arm still felt good," Scherzer said, "and when I was throwing the ball, I could still feel the ball come off my fingertips really good. "
That doesn't mean he pitched completely normal.
"He was off-kilter a little bit, a little out of whack at times," catcher Alex Avila said. "He battled through it and put in a good start for us. He was able to figure out a way to get it done."
Asked if any particular pitches were affected, Avila said, "Probably the changeup a little bit. I mean, when he delivers the ball, his head really snaps down. A few times, every once in a while, you could tell he was favoring it a little bit, but for the most part he made pretty good pitches."
Both runs came on home runs off offspeed pitches to Dickerson, who was 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts for his career against Scherzer before that. Dickerson turned on a hanging curveball to open the scoring leading off the third inning.
"That's the first time I've given up a home run on a curveball, so there's that," Scherzer said. "But then the more frustrating one was the second one."
That was a changeup on a 2-2 pitch, with Scherzer a strike away from getting out of the sixth inning unscathed.
"I just couldn't get that putaway fastball over the zone," Scherzer said, "so I had to try to double up on a changeup."
It continued an odd stat for Scherzer against the bottom of the order. No. 9 hitters are now batting .354 (17-for-48) with three home runs against Scherzer this season. By contrast, cleanup hitters are just .122 (7-for-57) off him with 20 strikeouts, though six of the seven hits have gone for extra bases.
Tigers recall Knebel to bolster bullpen
DETROIT -- Corey Knebel, though still very much a rookie, was more the teacher than the protégé when his second big league stint began on Saturday.
He had some words of wisdom for Detroit starter Drew VerHagen, who made his Major League debut.
"Congrats. It's a great feeling," Knebel said he told VerHagen, his teammate this season at Triple-A Toledo. "Go out there and enjoy it."
Knebel, the organization's top relief prospect, made his first Major League appearance since June 11. He pitched 1 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on three hits. Three of his five recorded outs came via strikeout.
He pitched in just six games over a three-week stretch in his first Major League go-around, allowing five runs on eight hits with three walks and eight strikeouts. He was sent back to Toledo to get more regular work, but his return never felt far off. With the bullpen needing a fresh arm, it came on Saturday.
"When he throws downhill, he's tough," manager Brad Ausmus said after the game."
Fastball command has perhaps been the biggest hurdle standing between Knebel and a regular spot in the Tigers' bullpen. That was a focal point for him recently while pitching for the Mud Hens.
"It's been doing me good," Knebel said of the fastball focus. "It was a little off today, but it's been pretty solid lately.
"I felt a lot more comfortable today. I was more relaxed."
• To make room for VerHagen on the 40-man roster, the Tigers transferred Joel Hanrahan from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL. Since Hanrahan has already been on the disabled list for more than 60 days since signing with the Tigers at the start of May, the move has no impact on when he's eligible to return.
• The Tigers released catcher Ronny Paulino on Saturday after his 100-game suspension from Major League Baseball had concluded. Paulino was suspended in Spring Training for testing positive for exogenous testosterone, his second positive test.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Matt Slovin is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.