Bob Smizik: Alvarez stumble continues

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Raise your hands (or comment), if you expected any of these three things as of June 21, 2014:

■ Pedro Alvarez batting seventh for the Pirates.

■ Pedro Alvarez batting seventh behind Josh Harrison.

■ Pedro Alvarez being pinch-hit for by Jordy Mercer.

I can see the hands flying up. Mine won’t be one of them.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Alvarez in 2014, but none of the above were included. Alvarez hit 36 home runs and drove in 100 runs last season. He tied Paul Goldschmidt for the National League home run championship. He was named to the All-Star team. I refuse to believe anyone truly expected him to be batting behind Harrison or being replaced by Jordy Mercer.

But those demotions have occurred and they have been richly deserved. The 2014 Alvarez is not the Alvarez of the past. Most notably, his offensive rampages, which could carry a team, have almost disappeared. He has had two especially productive streaks this season. From April 4-10 (six games) he had five home runs and 10 RBIs. From May 2-5 (four games), he had two homers and seven RBIs.

That might not seem like much but those 10 games -- 14 percent of the season -- represent 64 percent of his home runs and 49 percent of his RBIs. For the Pirates other 63 games -- 86 percent of the season -- he’s been mostly a non-factor.

Anyone who thinks this represents the same old Pedro is badly mistaken.

Alvarez has had 295 plate appearances this season and produced 11 home runs, 35 RBIs and a .720 OPS. Here’s what he did in his first 295 plate appearances (thru July 4) last season: 22 home runs, 55 RBIs and an .822 OPS.

Which is why Alvarez, who was 1-for-3 in a 6-3 loss to the Cubs yesterday, bats behind Harrison and was pinch-hit for by Mercer Thursday.

The Pirates could use a streaking Alvarez because some of their recently torrid hitters are cooling. Andrew McCutchen is 2-for-17, Starling Marte 2-for-13 and Harrison 1-for-12.

Maybe -- maybe -- one of those famous Alvarez rampages will take off tomorrow. But with the season approaching the halfway point, Alvarez is a massive disappointment. The Pirates certainly won’t be talking a long-term deal with him. But nor may they be trading him in the offseason because -- based on what has transpired thus far -- of his plunging value.

■ ■ ■ ■ 

■ Charlie Morton was due for a bad game and all it took to produce that was one bad inning. Morton gave up five runs in the third inning yesterday -- a two-run double by Anthony Rizzo followed by a three-run homer by Starlin Castro -- and that was all the damage necessary in the 6-3 loss. He also gave up a solo home run to Chris Coghlan in the fifth. He allowed six earned runs after allowing only eight in his previous five starts.

■ Jason Grilli, removed from the closer’s role, pitched a scoreless eighth. He gave up a hit and a walk and struck out two. Manager Clint Hurdle said Mark Melancon will get most of the the save opportunities for the foreseeable future.

■ Gregory Polanco stretched his hitting streak to 10 games with a first-inning single, his only hit . . . Russell Martin raised his on-base percentage to .429 with a hit and a walk. Martin is second to Troy Tulowitzki (.445) in the National League . . . Mercer had a three-run homer for all of the Pirates runs.


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