DETROIT -- The final test Al Alburquerque received at Triple-A Toledo in late August in his road back from elbow surgery before being recalled to Detroit was a set of back-to-back appearances. In the second game, he struck out the side in order, and Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said he looked ready. A few days later, Alburquerque was back in Detroit.
Alburquerque hasn't pitched back-to-back days since. The way the Tigers bullpen lines up with the Division Series roster, there's a good chance he might get another test.
Manager Jim Leyland was asked after the Tigers' Division Series roster came out if Alburquerque was available to pitch in consecutive games.
"We would hope so," Leyland said. "It's not the best situation, but we didn't want to use [Brayan] Villarreal on back-to-back days either.
Alburquerque underwent surgery last December to repair a fracture at the tip of his elbow. His return gave the Tigers a valuable strikeout specialist who proved to be a critical piece in the club's run to last year's division title.
Alburquerque struggled last postseason, but opinions differ on whether it was a case of an ailing elbow or rookie nerves.
Infante gets refresher on turning double plays
DETROIT -- The Tigers don't do a whole lot of infield work before games. What they do, they accomplish either in early work or during batting practice. So when Tigers infield coach and longtime Major League shortstop Rafael Belliard began taking ground balls at shortstop before Game 1 of American League Division Series on Saturday, it looked odd, like he was maybe trying to keep warm.
Belliard worked with Infante for a couple of weeks on staying back on double plays, rather than stepping into the runner and risking a takeout slide. Belliard also appeared to be working on helping Infante get rid of the ball quicker. The work seemed to pay off over the final road trip of the season, when his throws were crisper and his feet planted.
Detroit didn't turn any double plays during its 3-1 victory Saturday night, but three outs turned at second base helped minimize the pressure on Justin Verlander as he worked through the Oakland order for 11 strikeouts over seven innings. One came from Infante, who ranged into the hole on a Seth Smith grounder before lofting a throw over baserunner Josh Reddick to Jhonny Peralta to erase Reddick following his leadoff walk in the fourth inning.
Two innings earlier, Peralta went into the hole on the left side to rob Derek Norris and retire Smith at second. The look on Verlander's face when the ball was hit suggested he feared it would get through.
For the game, Verlander actually got more outs at second base (three) than he did at first (two).
Lolich an ironman of a different era
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander is considered baseball's new ironman pitcher, leading the league in innings and pitches the past two seasons. But even for Verlander, it's nothing compared to what former Tiger Mickey Lolich threw in his career.
Lolich was at Comerica Park for Saturday's Game 1 of the American League Division Series to deliver the ceremonial first pitch. Despite his age (72) and logging 3,638 1/3 innings in his career -- including four straight seasons of 300-plus innings from 1971-73 -- he still had it.
"It was a strike in my day," he joked. "Not the way they call the zone today. A little high."
In 1971, at age 30, Lolich threw 376 innings, 29 complete games, went 25-14 with a 2.92 ERA and tallied 308 strikeouts. To fans of the game today, those number are mind-blowing.
"I used to average about 140 pitches a game," Lolich said. "Back in our day, you had a one-year contract, so you went out and pitched. And if your arm fell off, you were done. ... Nowadays, when they have multi-year contracts and they're guaranteed, they've got to make sure these guys don't get hurt."
For the Tigers' all-time leader in strikeouts, shutouts and games started, it was a familiar feeling stepping onto the mound for a playoff game against the A's. The last time he appeared in the postseason, the AL Championship Series back in '72, it was against Oakland. He threw 10 innings in a 3-2 loss in Game 1, and returned -- on four days' rest, nonetheless -- to pitch nine innings in a Game 4 victory.
Lolich sarcastically smiled when asked if he likes the impact pitch counts now have on the game. Instead, the true Tigers ironman believes the more pitches and innings thrown, the better for a pitcher.
But even though he might not agree with today's limitations, he's still a fan of the game. And especially a fan of Verlander.
"He's supposed to be playing in another league somewhere," said Lolich of Saturday's Game 1 starter. "He reminds me of Sandy Koufax. Just phenomenal when things are going good for him. And I mean, he's a workhorse. He wants to pitch. I bet you he gets into a few arguments out there when he's gotta come out of a game. That's the way a pitcher's supposed to be. And I enjoy watching him."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.