When the opposing team sends a left-handed starter to the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates, third baseman Pedro Alvarez will likely be on the bench. During Alvarez’s rookie season in 2010, the third baseman hit .228 over 114 at-bats against lefty pitching compared to .270 over 233 at-bats against a right-hander. The trend continued last season when Alvarez had just 38 plate appearances against lefties, where he hit for a .158 clip.
Throughout spring training and so far during the young 2012 season, Alvarez has been part of a platoon situation with a southpaw on the mound. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle has been going in favor of Casey McGehee at third, and rookie Matt Hague at first base in part of a double platoon at the corners.
Hurdle has also sat the left-handed bat of Alex Presley in left field in favor of a right-handed bat as well. The club said they will continue to pick and choose at-bats for Alvarez against lefties.
“[Hurdle’s] going to put the lineup out there that he feels is going to give us the best chance to win,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “At the same time, he knows that if Pedro’s hitting the way that he’s capable of, we’re a much better offensive club. So there’s that challenge of making sure that whether it’s Pedro, or Garrett Jones, or Alex Presley, you don’t run them out there against some of these dominant left-handers this early in the season and get them off to a bad start. But at the same time, you don’t want them to develop into a platoon mindset with some of these guys. You want them to have to battle some left-handers.”
The Pirates will face the Los Angeles Dodgers today at 4:10 ET, the first of a three-game set, where the club will send left-handed starter and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw to the mound.
“There are times where a hitter needs to face the same side pitcher because it closes them down mechanically, and you can’t get away with somethings that you can against with the opposite side pitcher,” Huntington said. “You also factor in [Yamaico] Navarro, [Josh] Harrison and [Matt] Hague, who are swinging the bat well. And you want to get them into the lineups. It’s a multiple variable situation for Clint and it’s a good set of variables that he’s working through.”
Hague, 26, was used to pinch-hit for Alvarez in the 8th inning of the Pirates eventual 5-4 walkoff win against the Phillies. With two outs and two runners on base, Hurdle elected for Hague to hit in the clutch situation instead of Alvarez.
With the game on the line, Hague came through with a RBI single into left field — which was hit first Major League hit and RBI. The knock also tied the game at 4, as Andrew McCutchen won the game with a walkoff hit in the bottom of the 9th inning.
Hurdle said the decision to pinch-hit for Alvarez in that situation was tough. Alvarez, the Bucs’ 2008 first-round pick, struggled during spring training, but recently has looked better at the plate. The third baseman removed his toe tap and earlier in the game crushed a 2-1 changeup for a home run in the fifth inning. The ball cleared the seats in right field and bounced on the walkway in front of the river. It marked Alvarez’s first hit and long ball of the season. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts prior to that at-bat.
The home run may have taken some pressure of the 24-year-olds shoulders.
“It felt good to put a pretty good swing [on it], hit a ball solid. The fact that it was a home run is a plus. Just trying to put good swings and make good contact,” Alvarez said. “I’m not focusing on hitting home runs or anything like that. I’m just focusing on putting some good swings. It obviously [felt] good.”
Despite being pinch-hit for, Alvarez showed no sign of disappointment, as he was cheering for his good friend Hague during the at-bat. The two infielders were drafted in 2008, and moved through the minor league system together.
“[Alvarez] was one of the first guys cheering when Hague took his place and drove in the tying run,” Hurdle said. “If you’re going to have a good ball club it takes 25 men throughout the course of the season.”
“It’s not something that’s a lay-up in my mind,” Hurdle said on the decision to pinch-hit Alvarez. “Say, ‘Okay. This is it. We’re going this way.’ because you want to give opportunities to a young man to buy more real estate, to improve, build on some traction that he might have. I think you want to be an optimist, but you’ve got to be a realist. You got to make sure you’ve paid attention to what transpired before hand.”
“I felt our best bet for the team at that time was to make that move. I don’t envision that Pedro is a guy that’s going to be pinch-hit for a lot in his career. But I think initially to get his feet on the ground, get him moving forward in a good way. We’ll pick our spots.”