KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Despite struggling at the plate during Grapefruit League action this spring, third baseman Pedro Alvarez will start the season in the Majors. Rumors swirled that Alvarez might start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis to get back on track, but Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington insisted on Sunday, prior to the Bucs 9-7 win over the Houston Astros, that they do not plan on sending Alvarez to Triple-A to start the 2012 season.
“We’ll see where he is health-wise,” Huntington said. “The rumors of him starting in Triple-A have never came from the Pirates. It’s been an outside speculation. It’s not what we’ve thought of [doing]. We’ve asked him to do some things coming into spring training. He’s done those. He’s going through a tough stretch right now. Are we going to be able to get him out of it? We believe we will.”
The 25-year-old Alvarez has gone 4-for-30 (.133 average) with two home runs, four RBI and has struck out 13 times over 13 games this spring. Over his last five games, Alvarez has gone hitless at the plate (0-for-12) with seven strikeouts.
The question is: Could Alvarez benefit from starting the season in the minors by working on his swing, or will working through his struggles at the Major League level be more beneficial for the former first round pick?
“There are some times where guys are able to get away with flaws in Triple-A that the Major League level just doesn’t let them get away with,” Huntington said. “He may be one of those guys. There are guys who are tremendous Tripe-A performers and they need to learn and adjust at the Major League level…There’s benefit’s to having success. There’s benefits to going through some struggles. He did what he needed to this off-season. He’s in good physical shape. For a long time this spring he was swinging the bat really well. He’s going through a rough stretch here.”
“It’s not the first time he’s going to go through a tough stretch. It’s not the last time he’s going to go through a tough stretch. Andrew [McCutchen's] going to go through tough stretches at some point this season. Neil [Walker] is going to go through tough stretches at some point this season. The microscope just happens to be a lot sharper on Pedro right now. He just needs to relax and play. The ability is there. He’s going to be a good big league player. He’s going to be a threat when he walks into a batters box. He’s just got to let that play. When he does that, then people will let him play.”
Getting back on track for Alvarez has been sidelined over the past three days after being diagnosed with discomfort and inflammation in his left knee. After playing six innings at third base during Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Alvarez was removed from the game and missed game action over the weekend. On Saturday, Alvarez participated in fielding drills and took batting practice with the club.
“We’re hoping to get him a lot of at-bats this weekend” Huntington said. “We’ll see how the knee responds, and make the decision accordingly… Certainly there’s some areas of concern. [There’s] some positive signs as well. How do we best put him, and us, in a position to be successful? Right now, the knee doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue, but we got to make sure that we handle it conservatively and put him in a position to be successful, get him the necessary at-bats to get him going and get him to be successful out of the chute.”
Although he won’t see Grapefruit League action just yet, Alvarez could see some at-bats at minor league camp at Pirate City on Monday.
“We’ll see where he is,” Huntington said. “This weekend was about lets hit it hard with treatments and try to get the inflammation and try to get the soreness out of there. As we’ve talked all the time with injuries, one builds upon the other. We’ll see how he feels today at the end of the treatments. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow when he shows up, and how he feels will dictate where we’re able to go with it.”
Navarro Incorporates Knee Tuck
Infielder Yamaico Navarro has been swinging a hot bat over his last three games, going 8-for-12 (.666) with a home run and three RBI. His five previous games, Navarro went hitless at the plate. Manger Clint Hurdle believes the reason for his current success has been incorporating a knee tuck that he seemed to have lost and just recently added back.
“It’s just a little knee tuck,” Hurdle said. “When he got here, the first couple weeks, early in the games, he was just getting that back knee up, bringing his front leg up, and just tucking that knee a little bit. He seemed to have lost it for about a week… His swing got quick, he got fast. It was out of control. He tightened it up about four days ago and the last three games it’s been spot on.”
Navarro, 24, is batting .366 over 19 games this spring with the Pirates and is battling for a backup utility infield job.
Burnett Feels Great After Live BP
Right-hander A.J. Burnett continues to take steps forward since undergoing right eye surgery last month. On Saturday, Burnett threw his first live batting practice at McKechnie Field.
“I know he felt like he’s probably ready to go Opening Day,” Huntington said. “He feels great. And that’s tremendous. He’s worked so hard to come back. He deserves a ton of credit, along with our medical people. He’s put himself in a position to be on track to where as good as we could have hoped as this point in time.”
When asked about his timetable for return after his live BP yesterday, Burnett mentioned with a smile that it was all written in pencil, not pen.
“With a veteran like that, who knows his body, the plan is always written in pencil,” Huntington said. “You show up everyday and you build upon on what you did the day before. This guy knows himself. He knows what he can do. The reality is, he’s a stating pitcher. The reality is, getting him from zero pitches to 100 pitches to be ready to help us win at the Major League level. That takes time. You can’t short circle that process. You can’t cheat that process. It is what it is. Otherwise you risk further injury, and that’s the last thing we want.”