DETROIT -- The Tigers have received a huge boost to their bullpen from Al Alburquerque and his nasty slider, but they've been aware of his injury history, especially with his elbow. Now, they'll have to get to the All-Star break without him.
The Tigers placed Alburquerque on the 15-day disabled list Friday with inflammation in the right flexor forearm mass.
The loss is expected to be a short one, as Alburquerque is expected to return after the All-Star break. Still, the move puts a hold on what has been a dominant rookie season for the 25-year-old right-hander with a tremendous out pitch and a power fastball to boot.
"Given the time frame of the season, with the All-Star break coming, we thought it was prudent to take him and put him on the 15-day disabled list," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said.
Detroit called up right-handed reliever Lester Oliveros to take Alburquerque's place on the 25-man roster. However, it'll be up to Ryan Perry and others to fill the void in the seventh inning created by Alburquerque's absence.
Alburquerque complained of elbow discomfort two weeks ago, mainly when he threw sliders. It was a problem that Rand said dated back to early June. But both Alburquerque and Rand said Wednesday afternoon that the right-hander was fine. A treatment and exercise program supposedly had taken care of it. Manager Jim Leyland had been giving Alburquerque multiple days of rest recently.
That was before he threw a season-high 42 pitches over 1 1/3 innings Wednesday night in a 16-9 loss to the Mets.
Leyland said after that game that he pitched Alburquerque, among others, with the belief that the Tigers could come back and win if they could hold their deficit at two runs. Alburquerque walked three batters and gave up three hits en route to giving up three runs, ending a 14-inning scoreless streak. Just 20 of his pitches were for strikes, and he struck out only one batter.
"Obviously, he threw the ball the other night, threw it well," Rand said. "But he did have complaints yesterday coming in of some tightness in his forearm. Obviously, somebody who throws that hard, with that hard of a slider, it's not a surprise he'd have some complaints there."
The original expectation was that Alburquerque would miss at least a few days. Once his problems resurfaced, however, he was taken for tests. An MRI exam conducted Thursday afternoon showed no structural damage.
"I think Alburquerque will be back the first day after the break," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't think it's much of an issue at all. We just went on the cautious side. He wasn't going to pick up a ball for three or four days, and then probably play catch, and then two days later possibly catch. But we just said that's the middle to latter part of next week, so let's just be on the safe side."
Alburquerque's numbers reflect the void the Tigers face. In 26 games, Alburquerque has allowed 15 hits over 29 innings with 22 walks and 47 strikeouts. His strikeout pace, hovering around 40 percent of the batters he faced, was on track to challenge Eric Gagne's Major League standard set in 2003, and he has allowed only one hit for extra bases all year.
Three out of every five pitches from Alburquerque this season have been sliders, a pitch that traditionally puts stress on the elbow.
The Tigers signed Alburquerque to a Major League contract last winter after he pitched in just 25 games for the Rockies' Double-A affiliate in Tulsa. That absence was caused by migraine headaches. The way he pitched in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic showed what he can do when he's healthy.
He missed time in 2007 with elbow soreness and all of 2008 following Tommy John surgery.
He backed up his health from the start of the regular season, which he spent at Triple-A Toledo before coming up in late April. After striking out eight batters over four scoreless innings and three appearances for the Mud Hens, the Tigers promoted him in mid-April.
After some early command inconsistency, Alburquerque caught fire, becoming a seventh-inning fixture. When Perry returned from a stint with Toledo last week, he became more of a long reliever, a role that will almost surely change now.
Oliveros made an impression on Tigers coaches in Spring Training, but his results have been mixed. After a dominant start at Double-A Erie with 16 innings of one-run ball and 27 strikeouts, the 23-year-old Venezuelan was 1-2 with a 4.37 ERA in 17 games for Toledo, allowing 22 hits over 22 2/3 innings with 13 walks and 22 strikeouts.
If Alburquerque is out for a longer stretch, another potential second-half option might loom at Toledo, where Erie closer Chance Ruffin will take Oliveros' spot. Ruffin, a supplemental-round Draft pick last year, went 3-3 with a 2.12 ERA and 10 saves for Erie, striking out 43 batters over 34 innings with 23 hits allowed. He tossed 10 2/3 scoreless innings on five hits with 11 strikeouts over his last 10 appearances for the SeaWolves.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.