By John Perrotto
Pedro Alvarez was not in the lineup for the first time this season on Thursday night when the Pirates lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 4-1 at PNC Park, and the third baseman was definitely in need of a break.
Alvarez has gotten off to a slow start in what figures to be his first full major-league season. After striking out as a pinch-hitter Thursday, he is hitting He is hitting .196 in 12 games with only one extra-base hit (a double) and four RBIs. Furthermore, has walked just four times and struck out 16 in 48 plate appearances.
Hurdle wanted Alvarez to spend the night taking a mental break from competition after working with hitting coach Greg Ritchie earlier in the day.
“I’m just refocusing on little adjustments I need to make,” Alvarez said. “Just overall, mechanically, mentally, whatever needs to be done.”
Part of Alvarez’s struggles has come from becoming too pull-happy. The left-handed hitter has put just five of his 30 balls in play this season to the left of second base. Just one of those five has resulted in a hit, with the other four being fly outs. Alvarez is also hitting .200 (3-for-15) on balls hit to right field, though .500 (5-for-10) on balls to center.
Alvarez has showed his usual plate patience as he has taken 58 percent of the 187 pitches he has seen. However, he appears to be a little too passive as 38 percent of the pitches he has taken have been strikes. In Thursday’s night four-pitch plate appearance against Brewers reliever Kameron Loe, Alvarez never took the bat off his shoulder.
Alvarez has also had problems making consistent contact as he has missed 32 percent of the pitches he has swung at.
Like most left-handed batters, Alvarez likes low pitches. However, pitchers have been having success by backing him off the plate with fastballs high and inside then getting him to chase breaking pitches outside the strike zone, primarily low and away. Alvarez has struck out in 58 percent of his at-bats that have reached two strikes.
“What I’d like him to do is go up there and be reactionary,” Hurdle said. “He hasn’t gotten off to the start that he would like or we would like but it’s still early and I’m just trying to get him to focus on a couple of absolutes at the plate. See the ball, No. 1, get good pitch to hit, No. 2, know he can attack the ball anywhere in the strike zone, it doesn’t need to be in a teacup, and just hit it hard where it’s pitched.”
Alvarez had a history of starting slowly both in college and the minor leagues.
And keep in mind that Alvarez hit just .114 with no homers, three walks and 17 strikeouts in the first 11 games of his major-league career last year after being recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis on June 15. He then batted .272 with 16 homers in 84 games to finish his rookie year.