CHICAGO -- Reliever Al Alburquerque is scheduled to be examined by Tigers medical personnel on Thursday in Detroit after the gifted rookie right-hander was unavailable to pitch in Wednesday's series finale against the White Sox.At this point, the issue isn't expected to be major, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he expects to have Alburquerque available for Thursday's series opener against the Angels at Comerica Park. However, the team should know more once it can check him out at home. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Alburquerque was playing catch before Wednesday's game when he said he couldn't go. He was not in the bullpen during the late innings of Detroit's 2-1 loss, and Chance Ruffin was warming up. Alburquerque hasn't pitched since tossing a scoreless inning on Sunday at Minnesota, but Rand said no issue popped up until Wednesday. The Tigers have been careful to watch his use since his return from the disabled list after the All-Star break. He has worked 4 1/3 scoreless innings, with four stranded runners, a walk and six strikeouts since then. Right elbow soreness forced Alburquerque to the DL on July 1, leaving a hole in Detroit's middle relief corps. But his stay on the DL was a minimal one, consisting mainly of rest for the arm.
Cooler heads avoid potential argument
CHICAGO -- While home-plate umpire Jerry Meals' call at the end of Tuesday night's Pirates-Braves game was a topic for discussion around baseball Wednesday morning, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was talking about an incident that went right on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field. The fact that it did helped keep Justin Verlander in the game and avoid what would've been a disaster for Detroit.
It also became a good example for what Leyland was talking about earlier this month: easing the tension between managers, players and umpires.
The exchange of words came up in the first inning, after Adam Dunn's two-run homer had given the White Sox a 2-0 lead. Verlander felt he hadn't gotten a call on a strike from home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa, and he paused for effect.
"He saw it as a ball, and he has the final say-so," Verlander said. "I kind of stopped there for a second and looked at him. And he told me to get back on the mound, or he said, 'Let's go.' That kind of got to me a little bit, because I usually walk around the mound. So I had to wait and see if he was going to call a strike before I walked around the mound, and he tells me to get back on the mound. So I probably said something I shouldn't have, and told him that I thought it was a strike. I guess he took offense to it."
Kulpa has been behind the plate for 12 of Verlander's 188 career starts, more than twice as many as any other umpire, including Verlander's first no-hitter in 2007, so they've had a good working relationship. That exchange, however, had the potential to build tension. It continued at the end of the inning, so Leyland emerged from the dugout to try to break it up.
"He was just letting me know to make sure Verlander knows don't do that anymore," Leyland said. "And I don't blame [Kulpa]. I understood it, totally. And I respected that fact that he told me. He told Verlander, and that was the end of it.
"That's the way things should be handled. That's what I'm talking about. That's the perfect way -- no big fanfare, no big deal. He just said, 'Jim, he can't be doing that.' And I said I understand it, and no problem."
The discussion came one night after Leyland's third ejection in four weeks, a string that included a July 5 ejection from Joe West that prompted Leyland's public concerns about tensions. Leyland's previous remarks had prompted a national discussion on the matter that continued into the All-Star break.
"I think what we all have to remember is there's a lot of emotion involved in this game, whether you're the umpire, manager, coach or player," Leyland said. "So sometimes you have to take that into consideration. I understood totally what [Kulpa] was saying, and I did not disagree with him. We took care of it and we moved on. To me, that situation was handled perfectly. I thought the umpire did a great job, and I respect the fact that he gave me the benefit of the doubt."
Verlander, too, said he appreciated the job Kulpa did with tensions raised.
"I really thought he did a phenomenal job all night," Verlander said. "I think he missed one pitch. He would say he didn't miss any. To be 99 percent right on the night is pretty doggone good. I don't have any issues with that.
"Things were on edge. There was a little bit of tension early in the game, but we're both professionals and we know how to deal with that."
Betemit making smooth transition
CHICAGO -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland had predicted a big home run out of Wilson Betemit after the Tigers traded for him last week. He hasn't gotten the homer yet, but he got a big hit out of his new third baseman. And with Justin Verlander itching to get another shot at holding the lead, an eighth-inning, go-ahead single was all the Tigers needed on Tuesday night.
"I already like him," Leyland said. "He's gotten some big hits already."
That fact has helped Betemit make a smooth transition after a trade that took him from the American League Central cellar in Kansas City to first place in Detroit.
"It's great, especially to come here to this team," Betemit said Wednesday morning. "We're in first place. You try to do your best to help."
Betemit had never faced White Sox left-hander Matt Thornton until that situation. And the switch-hitter's numbers against left-handers are dramatically lower than they were last year. He's batting .242 (16-for-66) from the right side this season, compared with .312 (24-for-77) in 2010. With pinch-runner Andy Dirks on second base and two outs in the inning, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen went with the recent splits and pulled Jesse Crain.
The move left Leyland with a puzzle. On his bench was Ryan Raburn, 4-for-11 with three RBIs off Thornton. The problem was that first base was open, and left-handed hitter Alex Avila was on deck.
"I can put Raburn up there," Leyland explained, "but he isn't going to get the chance to hit. He's going to walk him."
Given those options, Leyland decided he'd rather go with Betemit against the power lefty. The aggressive Betemit, in turn, went with a simplified approach.
"That's the first thing that goes through my mind: 'Don't try to do too much,'" Betemit said. "The guy throws the fastball so hard, I have to look for that pitch."
Boesch shows ability to get bunt down
CHICAGO -- Brennan Boesch entered Tuesday without a sacrifice bunt on his Major League resume, let alone a bunt single. But with recent talks from first-base coach and baserunning coach Tom Brookens, he had the thought in his mind.
Brookens had mentioned it in passing Tuesday afternoon before batting practice. He wasn't expecting it to come into play so soon, but when Boesch dropped a bunt down the third-base line to lead off the sixth inning, he had to smile.
"That's a perfect example of what he and I were talking about," Brookens said. "He's got good speed and he's got good hands."
Boesch does not have good experience bunting, so a positive reinforcement like that could do wonders. The Tigers aren't trying to change his power game, but they'd like to plant the idea as something opposing pitchers and defenses have to consider when he steps to the plate in certain situations.
Brookens managed Boesch at Double-A Erie two years ago, but never had him bunt. Standing 6-foot-5 and with an uppercut swing, he's a little big to be dropping them down, but he has been working on it during pregame batting practice.
"When you watch it in batting practice, when he does it, he's pretty good at it," Brookens said.
Manager Jim Leyland likes the idea.
"He's not going to make his millions dropping hits down," Leyland said, "but I love it."Boesch was out of the starting lineup on Wednesday in anticipation of him starting all four games of this weekend's series against the Angels. He struck out as a pinch-hitter to end the 2-1 loss.
Valverde continues to keep door shut
CHICAGO -- Lost in the clutch hitting from Wilson Betemit and the eighth-inning display of Justin Verlander on Tuesday night was another save for Tigers closer Jose Valverde. With a perfect ninth inning, Valverde converted his 27th save in as many chances this year.
That's the longest such streak in a single season by a Tigers closer since Willie Hernandez converted 32 straight chances in 1984 on his way to American League Most Valuable Player honors. Add in last season's work, and Valverde has converted his last 29 save opportunities. His last blown save came on Sept. 2 at Minnesota, a game in which he continued on for a three-inning performance to earn the extra-inning win.
By comparison, no other pitcher in baseball has more than eight saves this year without blowing at least one.
"He's done a heckuva job, to say the least," manager Jim Leyland said.
Brandon Inge fell a triple shy of the cycle on Tuesday night in his return to Triple-A Toledo, going 3-for-4 with a go-ahead three-run homer and four RBIs in a 7-4 Mud Hens victory over Norfolk at Fifth Third Field. Nothing has changed on the rehab status of Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. Zumaya continues to work out and play catch at home. The Tigers are not expecting him back this season.