PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Third baseman Pedro Alvarez has continued to climb his way up in the lineup. After starting the season batting seventh, Alvarez has slowly but surely hit his way up to the cleanup spot — the place where the organization envisioned for him when he was drafted in the first round (second overall) by Pittsburgh in 2008.
When Manager Clint Hurdle posted the lineup for tonight’s 7:05 start against the Cincinnati Reds, Alvarez’s name was in the fourth spot for the first time in the 2012 season.
He’s earned it, too. Alvarez entered game action with a seven-game hitting streak, where he’s gone 12-for-26 (.462) with three homers and nine RBI during that span. Alvarez currently leads all Major League third baseman with a .611 slugging percentage and is tied for third in the National League in home runs (7) behind Matt Kemp (12) and Jay Bruce (8).
“When I first took this job, I envisioned of the day when we have him at cleanup,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think you try and look for the right spot at the right time. The traction he’s put down the last two weeks, the upward movement from seven to six to five. For us to have the best lineup we can be, and we’ve been challenged thus far in the season. Cinco de Mayo. That’s either bootleg or brain storm. I’m not sure which one. I’m optimistic about it. You need to be realistic, and you need to be optimistic. Both of those feelings are in place. I talked to the young man before hand. We’re ready to go. He’s done it before.”
Batting cleanup is not new to the third baseman throughout college and in the minors. In the Majors he’s seen limited action. During the 2011 season, Alvarez saw the fourth spot just once in a pinch-hit at-bat over his 74 games in the Majors. His rookie year in 2010, Alvarez was inserted into cleanup 10 times over 95 games. When Hurdle told Alvarez the news, he said he smiled.
“There’s not fear, because there is a lot of things I can’t control,” Hurdle said. “I learned that lesson way too late in life but I held onto it very dearly for the last 15 years. I’m confident in his makeup, his compensation, what he’s gone through and where he is right now that this isn’t going to be a day-to-day thing. This is something we’re going to try and put a foot down. We’re going to make a commitment to and see where it takes us. See where it takes him.”
The organization took a lot of slack for deciding to start Alvarez in Pittsburgh, rather than send him to Triple-A to work on his swing. The front office continued their confidence in the 25-year-old, and it has started to pay off.
“I think after the 20th of April is when he started getting some traction,” Hurdle said. “He started getting the bat in play. That’s been the biggest thing, he’s swinging the bat. He’s firing at first pitch strikes. He’s laid off a lot of the down in the zone chases. Some of that is still going to happen, but what he’s seeing now and squaring up. Nothing breeds confidence like success for any player. He’s having some success. He’s confident. All he’s trying to do is get a good pitch and square it up. He’s so big and strong that when it’s elevated he can ride it out of the ballpark. He’s shrunk some ballparks here on the road trip. We all like what we’re seeing.”
Alvarez has homered three times in his last five games. After starting the season hitting for a .042/.042/.167 line in his first 24 at-bats, Alvarez has pushed his line up to .260/.295/.603 in 73 at-bats.
“Anybody that’s tied to the Pirates organization wants good thing to happen, knows that this is probably an important piece to get him in the run producing spot in our lineup to make it click,” Hurdle said. “I think along those lines, there’s a succession of events that needed to happen for that to be more seamless then dynamic. I think that’s the case we’re in right now.”