Free of virus, Alburquerque primed to deliver

Chikungunya no longer plagues hard-throwing Angels reliever

Free of virus, Alburquerque primed to deliver

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Al Alburquerque spent three days in a Dominican hospital last year. It was Jan. 2, 2015, and the veteran reliever had just contracted the Chikungunya virus, which was prevalent throughout the Caribbean. For two weeks, he could barely walk. For about four months, he didn't feel like himself.

Said Alburquerque: "I didn't start to feel ready until we were two months into the regular season."

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Alburquerque broke out in 2014, posting a 2.51 ERA in 72 appearances, but he struggled in 2015, finishing with a 4.21 ERA that prompted the Tigers to non-tender him in December. The Angels signed the right-hander for $1.1 million on Jan. 19 with the hope he could bounce back to provide their bullpen with some much-needed velocity.

Alburquerque believes he's in a much better position to do that now.

"I feel a lot better now, thankfully," Alburquerque said. "I feel the ball coming out of my hand well, my slider feels good. My body feels good."

The Chikungunya virus, which first made its way to the Americas in late 2013, is transmitted by mosquitos and mainly causes fever and joint pain. There are no vaccines or medications for treatment. Those affected are usually told to drink lots of fluids to flush the virus out of their systems.

Alburquerque was well into his throwing program by the time he got sick. He had to shut it down and start all over again around late January. Every time he ran, he felt uncommonly sore, so his conditioning suffered. And because of that, he said, his arm didn't feel quite right.

Alburquerque gave up nine runs on 12 hits and three walks in just 8 1/3 innings the ensuing Spring Training. He finished April with a 9.00 ERA and was throwing his fastball at an average velocity of 92.8 mph, a couple of ticks slower than his average from the prior year.

"All of my joints hurt," Alburquerque said, "and I couldn't prepare myself properly for the season."

As the season went on, though, Alburquerque got better. From the start of May to the end of August, he posted a 2.56 ERA and allowed an opponents' OPS of .628. He gave up eight runs on 14 hits in 8 1/3 innings in September, but his fastball velocity jumped to 96.3 mph that month.

With the Angels this spring, Alburquerque has been charged with five runs (two earned) on eight hits in three innings, walking one and striking out five.

But he claims to feel much better than those numbers would suggest.

"I already notice the difference," Alburquerque said. "This year already feels different. I feel better, much better, with everything."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.