BRADENTON, Fla. — Over seven Grapefruit League games this spring, third baseman Pedro Alvarez has three hits over 16 at-bats. Two of those three were home runs that were crushed to the opposite field. One came on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays, the other on Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Alvarez worked hard over the offseason to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 season where he batted just .191 over 74 games with Pittsburgh.
“The looseness of the muscles, not being too bulked up,” Alvarez said on his offseason workouts. “I have a little more flexibility in my swing and I’m able to stay through some balls and let the ball get deep. It’s not so tense because all your muscles are so tight and wound up”
“I get that whip and can really use my hands, and separate my bigger pec muscles and back muscles and …I’m getting a little too technical,” Alvarez said with a laugh.
Laughs and smiles were not something you saw from Alvarez during his struggles last year. After spending the offseason in Los Angeles, California getting back on track, Alvarez looks confident again.
Over the offseason, Alvarez worked on a different stance at the plate. The toe tap that he started incorporating towards the end of last year has been exaggerated this spring. He also said agility has let him get to the ball on the deeper part of the plate.
“I think he’s figured it out on his own,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “The information was there last season as well. A couple things that we were talking about was letting the ball get deeper. We don’t want him to slice the ball to left field, we want him to let the ball to travel because the power that he’s got, he doesn’t need to pull a ball to ride the ball out of the ballpark. As evidence already, this is what we were seeing in BP earlier, when he showed up early. But also, being able to hit from the time that he got in.”
“Last season if you condense his at-bats, over 30 percent of the at-bats were 0-2 counts. That’s tough living for anybody. 30 percent of your at-bats you’re in a 0-2 count, that’s not a secret for success. So being able to hit, letting the ball travel, being able to open up to the bigger part of the field. Those are all things he’s finding balance with them in a much better way.”
Of all the work that Alvarez has put in, the hardest part is learning to trust all that work and put it to use in games. Hurdle said it can be tough to get a guy to trust himself.
“The one thing the good hitters or players [do], they don’t miss the fastball,” Hurdle said. “One of the situations we had with Pedro last year [was] he’s missing the fastballs, fouling them off, swinging at them. So that makes you more susceptible to change-ups and spin when you’re out in front all the time. That’s the other thing that we really feel is going to help him with tremendously as well is seeing him get a better look, reacting better, getting spin or off-speed stuff as well. The trust is there. It’s their at-bat. They’re the only one in the box. I like the way he’s slowing it down and really committing himself to making it happen.”
“It’s the difference between you staying through a ball and you rolling over,” Alvarez said of letting the ball go deep. “We’re talking about a matter of half an inch to an inch. A millisecond — that’s the difference between a rollover and a line drive up the middle.”
“You don’t want to get caught being too relaxed. It’s just a matter of being ready — ready to compete, ready to hit, ready for your pitch so when you get it, you can do something with it.”