Reliever Al Alburquerque was sitting at a roulette wheel in Las Vegas when he learned he was returning to the major leagues. He lost, he says, but it still felt like a win.
Alburquerque, a nonroster invitee in spring training and a long shot to make the big-league roster, spent a month in the bullpen at Class AAA Omaha before joining the Royals’ bullpen in Tampa Bay on Wednesday. He logged a scoreless inning in a 6-0 victory on Thursday before returning to Kauffman Stadium with the club on Friday afternoon.
A veteran of six major-league seasons, including five with the Detroit Tigers, Alburquerque made just two appearances for the Los Angeles Angels in 2016, spending most of the year in Triple-A. He was released on Aug. 13 before signing with Seattle 10 days later. He did not return to the big leagues.
Yet in the offseason, Alburquerque went back to work. A native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, he competed in winter ball and worked on his two-seam fastball, he said Friday. The work paid dividends. With the Royals in need of bullpen help, and the Omaha Storm Chasers set to play a series in Las Vegas, Alburquerque and fellow reliever Seth Maness got the call.
“I feel comfortable right now,” he said. “That’s been the whole difference for me. I’m working with my pitches, working with my changeup.”
Originally signed as an amateur free agent by the Chicago Cubs, Alburquerque, 30, also spent time in the Colorado Rockies’ organization before debuting in the big leagues with the Tigers in 2011. He has posted a career 3.20 ERA in 244 career appearances, all in relief. His most complete season came in 2014, when he recorded a 2.51 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings innings for Detroit. As a rookie in 2011, he also posted a 1.87 ERA in 43 1/3 innings. For his career, he’s struck out 11 batters per nine innings pitched. In 13 2/3 innings at Omaha, he logged a 2.63 ERA.
“I feel comfortable here and to be here with a group of guys and try to earn it,” Alburquerque said. “Right away, I come here on the first day, and I feel like a family and everything, so I feel really good to be in this organization.”