KANSAS CITY -- Omar Infante's ankle injury was supposed to be an opportunity for infield prospect Hernan Perez to get a taste of the big leagues. The way he has gone so far, he's down to a nibble.
He'll get a bigger chunk of playing time coming up in Chicago, where the Tigers will face lefties Chris Sale and Hector Santiago on consecutive days. Though Ramon Santiago is a switch-hitter, manager Jim Leyland prefers the right-handed hitting Perez against lefties.
"That's what he's here for," Leyland said.
Against righties, though, Leyland will opt for Santiago. It doesn't mean that he has frowned on Perez as a prospect, but his wording makes it clear that Perez isn't ready yet for regular big league playing time.
"He's young, very talented and I think he's a terrific, terrific prospect," Leyland said. "I really like him a lot, and I don't think he's far away."
Data show Verlander's velocity still going strong
KANSAS CITY -- Justin Verlander and Jim Leyland can disagree on his strategy of pitching, as they clearly did Saturday night. One thing they can agree on is that his velocity is no longer the question behind his struggles.
Realistically, it hasn't been for a while. On Saturday, it clearly wasn't.
Verlander's fastball Saturday averaged just under 96 mph, according to data from MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net. It was his best velocity of the year. His command of it, on the other hand, was not.
There's a stronger correlation between Verlander's fastball strike rate and his success this year than his velocity. When he has pitched at his best, he has usually thrown strikes with close to 70 percent of his fastballs. On Saturday, he threw 28 of his 44 fastballs for strikes. That amounts to a 63.64 percent rate, or the exact same rate of strikes he threw with his changeup.
His hardest pitches ranged around that 32-pitch fourth inning, when he loaded the bases twice and walked in a run.
To suggest he isn't throwing as hard as he used to seems to be an old argument now. Whether he can actually command it the same way when he throws hard now, or anywhere close, is another matter. If he's throwing his pitches carefully, as Leyland suggested Saturday, that's another matter.
"I mean, I'm not concerned about his fastball. He's throwing hard," catcher Alex Avila said Saturday night. "When he's throwing it there and he has good command of it, they're not taking good swings. And when they do, they're not hitting it hard. They haven't really been taking good swings off his fastball. It's just making sure you can not only get ahead of guys, but finishing them with the same release point."
Delayed flight postpones Infante's return
KANSAS CITY -- A flight delay coming back from Florida essentially meant a lost day to travel for Tigers second baseman Omar Infante, who rejoined the team at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday evening. It also might have erased any remaining hope that he might return for the end of the upcoming series against the White Sox in Chicago.
"I'm disappointed I won't have him for that Chicago series," said manager Jim Leyland.
When there was still hope of getting Infante back to action after the All-Star break, his presence looked like a potentially big factor for the Tigers against White Sox lefties Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. They'll pitch the first two games of the upcoming series.
Instead, rookie fill-in Hernan Perez will likely get the starts.
Leyland didn't want to make excuses for his team's struggles out of the break, but he also didn't want to sugarcoat the lineup without Infante.
"We miss Omar," Leyland said. "He's a good big league player and our regular second baseman."
Alburquerque's strong outing shows improvements
KANSAS CITY -- Al Alburquerque's outing Saturday marked his first perfect inning since July 5. The fact that his outing was spread out over two innings made it all the more surprising.
It was a sign that Alburquerque might be feeling more comfortable repeating his mechanics.
Alburquerque said Sunday morning he felt comfortable with his pitches. The biggest key for him was the slider, which has been a point of emphasis for him over the last couple weeks.
It's actually two different pitches now. Alburquerque had been throwing a harder slider, sometimes as high as 90-91 mph, that had been flattening out. He has since tweaked it to get a sharper break and more deception, but he's keeping the hard slider anyway.
Between the two versions, Alburquerque threw 12 sliders out of 15 pitches Saturday night. Nine of those sliders went for strikes, five of them swings and misses.