By John Perrotto
The Pirates gave strong consideration to recalling Pedro Alvarez in time for last weekend’s pivotal series against the fellow National League Central contending St. Louis Cardinals. However, there was a bit of hesitation in the minds of the Pirates’ brain trust.
“We wanted to see him hit the ball hard,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “His statistics were good but they didn’t tell the full story. He wasn’t making the type of hard contact that we know he can.”
So while the Pirates were losing two of three to the Cardinals at PNC Park, Alvarez spent the weekend terrorizing Rochester in the International League. The third baseman went 6-for-11 with one double, one triple and one home run. Most importantly, he hit the ball hard as, of the eight balls Alvarez put in play during the three games, four were line drives, two were fly balls (including the homer) and two were ground balls.
Alvarez showed enough to be promoted to the major leagues in time for Monday night’s 3-1 victory over the Braves at Atlanta. He was 1-for-3 with a single, a run scored, a walk and a strikeout.
That marked the start of a pivotal road trip for the Pirates as they play seven games against the teams with the two best records in the NL, four against the Braves and three at Philadelphia, beginning Friday. Huntington knew an offense that had produced just 13 runs in the previous six games needed a boost.
“We felt it was the right time to bring Pedro back,” Huntington said.
Much of the Pirates’ reasoning centered around the fact they will face only one left-handed starter on the trip, the Phillies’ Cliff Lee on Saturday night.
In Class AAA, Alvarez hit .413 off right-handers with a .491 on-base percentage and a .674 slugging percentage. Against lefties, he batted .235 with a .381 OBP and a .353 slugging percentage.
Overall, Alvarez had a .365 batting average with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 18 games and 78 plate appearances with a .461 on-base percentage and a.587 slugging percentage. That was a great improvement upon what he did in the major leagues earlier this season when he hit .208 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 36 games before going on the disabled list May 20 with a strained quadriceps then being optioned to Indianapolis following his activation.
While the Pirates feel that Alvarez will improve against left-handers as he gains experience, they want to see him quit pulling the ball so much at the major-league level. During his xxxx major-league plate appearances, Alvarez has put 49.6 percent of his balls in play to right field, his pull side, compared to 28.1 percent to left field and 22.3 percent to center field.
“If Pedro hits the ball from left-center field to right-center field, uses the big part of the park, then I have no doubt he is going to add a lot to our offense,” Huntington said. “That’s really the key with Pedro. When he uses the whole field, he is capable of doing damage.”