By John Perrotto
The signs that Clint Hurdle’s patience with Pedro Alvarez’s lack of production is starting to wear thin are obvious.
First-year manager Clint Hurdle has reduced the 24-year-old third baseman to basically a platoon player by sitting him against left-handed pitchers recently. That is not a bad idea considering that Alvarez was hitting .217 with a .638 OPS against lefties in 27 plate appearances this season going into Tuesday’s game against the Nationals that got rained out.
The ironic part of Alvarez becoming a platoon player is his statistics are somewhat worse against right-handers as he is hitting .208 with a .543 OPS in 96 plate appearances.
Of course, all of Alvarez’s statistics border on horrendous through his first 34 games and 130 plate appearances. He has a .210 batting average, .277 on-base percentage and a .286 slugging percentage while hitting only one home run. Alvarez has also committed seven errors.
Some in the organization believe it might be wise to send Alvarez to Class AAA Indianapolis to work out his problems in the International League, the majority knows that he has a history of starting slowly.
Alvarez went 4-for-35 (.114) with 17 strikeouts in his first 11 major-league game and 39 plate appearances after the Pirates called him up last June. He did not get his batting average above .200 for good until 23 games.
Alvarez began his professional career in 2009 by going hitless in his first 17 at-bats for high Class A Lynchburg and was hitting just .219 at the end of April. Last year, he hit only .224 in 22 games in April for Indianapolis.
Alvarez bounced back to hit .256 with 16 home runs and 64 RBIs in 95 last season as a rookie. He also finished strong in first professional season following his struggles in the Carolina League, batting a combined .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBIs in 126 games with Lynchburg and Class AA Altoona.
While 130 plate appearances is a relatively small sample size, two factors point to the root causes of Alvarez’s struggles. He has walked in just 7.7 percent of his plate appearances, down from 9.6 last season and 13.1 in the minor leagues.
His ground ball/fly ball ratio is 1.56, which is more in line with a slap hitter than a guy with significant raw power.
And though it’s been just 29 trips to the plate, Alvarez has yet to deliver an extra-base hit with runners in scoring position while batting .192.
Meanwhile, advance scouts say the book on Alvarez is to feed him a steady diet of breaking balls because he has yet to show he can hit those pitches with any authority.
While general manager Neal Huntington isn’t inclined to farm out Alvarez yet, it will be interesting to see just how much longer they will allow him to struggle at the major-league level. The Pirates are hoping he can get squared away without a demotion because they are privately concerned that Alvarez could pout if sent back to Indianapolis and that his agent Scott Boras could create a controversy if there is a demotion.
However, if Alvarez continues to slump, the Pirates will have no choice to make a tough decision.