FRIDAY PIRATES FEATURE
By John Perrotto
Photo: David Hague
The last out had only been recorded moments earlier Thursday night of the Pirates’ 4-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants when the Twitter message arrived.
“Who’s going to be the first baseman next year?” the questioner asked. “Hope it’s not Pedro.”
Pedro, of course, is Pedro Alvarez and the message only reinforced the idea that he is most polarizing player on the Pirates’ roster.
Alvarez went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and a segment of the fans base was ready to give up on him.
In the preceding days, the talk shows and chat rooms were abuzz about how Alvarez’s bat was waking up at just right time — in the midst of a pennant race. The left-handed slugger had gone 15-for-31 (.484) with four home runs and nine RBIs in his 11 games prior to Sunday.
However, Alvarez’s performance has been known to swing wildly ever since he arrived in the major leagues in 2010.
“He’s just a hard guy to figure out,” said a coach from another National League team. “I like him. You don’t find power like that very often and I think he can help a team. Then he gets into those
funks where it looks like he’s never going to get another hit and that makes it hard to totally commit to thinking he can be a great hitter.”
Alvarez has not lived up to the hype of being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 amateur draft. Considering he is now 28, he likely never will.
Furthermore, Alvarez has also shown that his best position is designated hitter as he has made 16 errors in 95 games at first base this season after committing a combined 79 the previous three seasons at third base.
The problem is, of course, that the DH is not used in the NL.
In the context of his career, though, Alvarez is having a good year. His .252 batting average is four points off his career high of .256 from his rookie season and his .778 OPS is nine points higher than his .769 mark in 2013 when he tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs.
While Alvarez’s inconsistency has clearly worn on Clint Hurdle at times, the Pirates’ manager believes his first baseman may be turning a corner.
“We’ve seen the discipline, we’ve seen a stubborn approach at the plate,” Hurdle said. “He’s ready to hit until he has to take and that’s one of the challenges for a hitter. Sometimes you get geared up to hit and you see it from different guys at different times, you get in swing mode and you stay in swing mode. He’s been able to create some separation.”
Alvarez’s challenge the rest of the season is two-fold.
He needs to stay hot in order to give the Pirates a chance to make up their 4 ½-game deficit to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central race. He also needs to have a good finish to entice the
Pirates to tender him a contract for one more season — he has a $5.75-million salary this year — rather than release him, which would almost certainly prevent him from getting the same kind of raise as he would by going through the salary arbitration process.
If nothing else, Alvarez has already bettered his disappointing 2014 season in which he hit .231 with 18 homers and a .717 OPS in 122 games.
“I know a number of people in our town watch him from all different lenses,” Hurdle said. “We know the man. He’s capable of carrying the club when he gets hot. He’s a run producer. Last year was a challenge for him in a couple different ways. This year he came in with a clean slate, just wanted to help. It’s playing out.”