PITTSBURGH, PA — Something seemed to just change for Pedro Alvarez while in Cleveland for the Interleague series against the Indians. And change quick. The third baseman was just 4-for-34 (.118 average) before blasting a leadoff home run on a 2-0 pitch off Ubaldo Jimenez on Saturday. Alvarez didn’t stop his tear there. He went deep again in the ninth inning. It marked the first time since his rookie season on July 21, 2010 that Alvarez had a multi homer game.
“Just trying to go up there and relax and compete,” Alvarez said of his adjustments. “Just try to go up there and take some good passes and swing at some balls. Be selective. Try to swing at some good pitches that I can drive.”
The lumber came back out in an impressive fashion again the next night. Alvarez belted two more home runs against Cleveland — both three-run long balls — while driving in a career-high six RBI. In his final at-bat in the Pirates win, Alvarez took a double off the wall just feet shy of a third home run.
And since then, Alvarez continues to look locked in at the plate. The third baseman has gone 9-for-17 (.529 avg) in his last four games with five long balls. During Thursday’s 9-1 beating over the Twins, Alvarez launched a 435 ft solo-shot in the seventh inning for his team-leading 13th of the season. His 13 homers on the year lead the Pirates, and are tied with David Freese for the most among National League third basemen.
“Another man that we’ve been waiting for to impact that offense,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “And obviously he’s done it in dramatic fashion. There’s a lot going on when Pedro puts his game up. You talk about back-to-back two-run home run games and the fact that there was six runs driven in, in the second game. It makes our offense work easier. It lightens the load for everybody else. And it helps his confidence. It’s a win-win across the board. Consistency is the next step. We’ve seen a spurt from him before. Hopefully he’s in one of those spurts right now that can become more of a consistent thing.”
It’s no coincidence that when Alvarez started to heat up this month, so did the team. The Pirates 93 runs scored so far this month is third most among National League teams. Pittsburgh is 16-4 this season when the third baseman drives in at least one run; 9-2 when he homers.
Consistency is going to be key for Alvarez and the Pirates offense this season. The 25-year-old has been streaky since joining the big league club.
“That’s a billion dollar question, more than that,” Hurdle said on Alvarez being consistent. “Hopefully the kid’s maturation, the kids experience in the league…I think it comes back to a guy coming back to a guy getting comfortable in the box and putting his A swing out there and trusting it.”
“Him being ready to hit I think is a big thing. It’s been harped upon, repeated upon and talked about at length — being ready to hit when you get in the box. Sometimes it takes longer for players to grasp that, or come to terms with that than others.”
Earlier this season Alvarez went on a tear and Hurdle decided to bump him up to the cleanup spot. The third baseman had earned it. Alvarez had a seven-game hitting streak, where he went 12-for-26 (.462) with three homers and nine RBI during that span. Alvarez started the 2012 season batting in the seventh spot, and slowly hit his way up to fourth. But once there, it took Alvarez 22 at-bats before getting his first hit. Currently batting sixth, Hurdle said he has a plan on where he will decide to hit him in the lineup.
“We had a plan the first time,” Hurdle said. “Based on the two week window of work, we moved him up accordingly. As he stopped getting pitched to in spots, we tried to find a spot where he’d have to get pitched to. And find him somebody that could provide some level of protection behind him. Right now he’s at sixth. We’ll keep him at six. If there’s something that changes out there and he stops getting pitched to, we’ll have to readjust, present a different change in the lineup to provide some better protection behind him. Time will tell. He’s in a good spot right now. We will see where he can take it.”