07/26/10 2:25 PM ET
Alvarez has shown history of adjustments
Third baseman catches fire in bigs, just like Minors stops
By Matt Fortuna / MLB.com
The most highly touted Pirates prospect since Barry Bonds was hitless through three games following his promotion, still homerless two weeks later and hitting less than .200 one week after that.
"He's certainly not going to tell you," Neil Walker said, "but it looked like he was just a little bit out of his element for a short period of time, and you knew that would pass."
No, this wasn't Class A Lynchburg. Or Double-A Altoona. Or, for that matter, Triple-A Indianapolis.
This was Pittsburgh, the big leagues, and the 23-year-old Alvarez was off to yet another slow start at a new level.
"It's a learning curve," Alvarez said. "It's been a learning curve every step of the way, so it's a learning period and an adjustment period, and that's what I hope to finally get through."
If his performance during a 10-game homestand following the All-Star break is any indication, Alvarez is currently on his way out of that adjustment period and into the comforts of what Pirates fans hope is a long and prosperous Major League career.
Alvarez hit .308 (12-for-39) with four home runs -- all in a two-day span -- nine RBIs and eight runs scored in the past 10 games, lifting his batting average from .214 to .252 through 34 games in the Majors.
As for that strikeout-to-walk ratio, the one that was at a glaring 5 to 1 after 35 whiffs and seven free passes through his first 24 games? That's taken a dive since the Midsummer Classic as well, after eight strikeouts and five walks, the most impressive of which came on five pitches with a runner on in the ninth inning of a two-run game last Monday against Milwaukee's John Axford.
"He didn't chase balls up. He got the walk. I think that's a good sign," Pirates manager John Russell said of the at-bat. "That doesn't mean that he's not going to chase pitches, but it just shows the ability, that he has the comfort level that he can trust himself at the plate now, and we're starting to see it more and more."
The same story has played out within each level of the Pirates organization since the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft made his debut with Class A Advanced Lynchburg -- now a part of the Cincinnati Reds' Minor League system -- on April 9, 2009, going 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs.
Alvarez went hitless his next five games and his batting average hovered in the low .200s for much of the season before a string of five multihit performances over nine games raised his average to .247 and earned him a promotion Altoona -- a more dramatic and successful chapter of the story.
Batting .214 through 15 games, Alvarez launched into a tear over his final 45 games at Altoona, hitting .374 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs to finish the season with a .333 average.
And at Indianapolis this season? Try a .222 average after 21 games, before hitting .295 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs over his final 45 games there to finish with a .277 batting average and a big league callup.
"I think that's Pedro's track record," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "When he went to Lynchburg, he tried to do too much and got outside his abilities and he expanded the [strike] zone. When he went to Indianapolis this year, exact same thing. And we saw it up here. The next challenge is going to be as the league adjusts to these guys [Jose Tabata and Alvarez] second time through. Andrew [McCutchen] went through it last August, but he made a great adjustment and came on strong in September, and it's going to be interesting to see how Pedro and Tabata respond as the league adjusts to them."
Russell has taken an optimistic approach each day, saying every game is -- at the very worst -- just three or four more Major League at-bats for Alvarez. Look no further than Thursday's 0-for-4 performance, which the rookie promptly followed the next night with his fifth multihit game since the All-Star break.
Alvarez went 0-for-7 in the past two games, putting a slight blemish on an otherwise vast turnaround that has caught the attention of managers present and past.
"It didn't surprise me at all," Altoona manager Matt Walbeck said of Alvarez's recent tear. "He's the type of player that can make adjustments on the fly. Once he figures out how guys are trying to pitch him, he's going to put up some big production."
The prevailing feeling around PNC Park is that there is more to come from Alvarez, who has brought fans to their feet and national media outlets to Pittsburgh with blasts like his one in the eighth inning Wednesday, when the right-field foul pole looked like the only thing ruining the inevitable meeting of an Alvarez home run ball and the Allegheny River.
And, based on the left-hander's calm demeanor and grounded public approach after shots like that one, it's fair to wonder just how close similar dates are to happening.
"I try not to get too caught up in external things and just focus on coming to the ballpark every day and spending some time with these guys, and that's the most important thing right now," Alvarez said. "It's also in my nature a little bit -- I'm not the energetic guy, but definitely you've got to keep an even keel, because when things are going well it's very easy to get carried away, and sometimes when things aren't going well you've got to keep the same mentality and same level-headedness. That's what I try to do."
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.