Pirates' players eagerly await Alvarez's arrival
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DETROIT -- Jose Tabata visibly brightened at the suggestion.
Neil Walker essentially offered a warning to boaters in the Allegheny River.
Andrew McCutchen spoke wistfully about a harmonic convergence between left-handed power and right field's Clemente Wall.
Down the order and throughout the clubhouse, the Pirates are waiting for Pedro Alvarez's arrival.
Almost as eagerly as their long-suffering fan base.
The clock is down to minutes, hours, days. Alvarez could appear in a Pirates uniform, at third base, in the order directly behind Tabata, Walker and McCutchen or somewhere thereafter, maybe at No. 5. It could happen as early as Friday in an interleague series opener against the Cleveland Indians or perhaps even the set starting today against the Chicago White Sox. It could happen next week before a nine-day road trip.
It will happen.
Game: Pirates vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
Pitching: RHP Brad Lincoln (0-0, 7.50) vs. RHP Freddy Garcia (6-3, 4.82).
Season series: First meeting. Chicago took the series last year, 2-1.
Key matchup: Lincoln vs. the hex on the Pirates' starters. Paul Maholm owns the rotation's lone victory in the past 24 games, June 5 vs. San Francisco. The starters are a combined 1-14 in that span.
Of note: The White Sox own the majors' third-best record on the road in interleague play, 61-58.
"Oh, man," fairly gushed Tabata, a close friend and teammate from Class AA Altoona and, the opening two months of this season, Class AAA Indianapolis. He has been getting texts from Alvarez since this speedy outfielder and starter Brad Lincoln were called up Wednesday in something less than a state secret. "I saw him every day working hard. He's focused. He's focused every day. He's happy every day. He wants to come up."
"When we were playing together in [Class AAA], it was a lot of fun," added Walker, who, before his late-May promotion, often batted between Tabata and Alvarez in Indianapolis' top of the order or two spots ahead of Alvarez. And what will Alvarez bring to the Pirates? "Wow. He's most likely going to be somewhere in the middle of the lineup. He's going to be driving balls all around the yard, probably hitting balls in the Allegheny as soon as he gets up here. He's going to bring a lot of energy to the ballclub. ... I don't think he'll miss a beat when he gets here, either. So I'm looking forward to it."
So is McCutchen.
"That left-handed power, that can help this team out. A lot. Take advantage of that right-field wall," said McCutchen, who never played in the minors with the second overall pick from the 2008 draft. "He's that guy, when he comes up to bat, hey, he can hit the ball out of the park. Just be ready.
"That's something we kind of lack. We don't have that guy who just comes up with the power. We have Garrett Jones, we have Ryan Doumit, we have those guys. But [in Alvarez] we have a guy who really has some pop, who can really hit the ball hard to all parts of the field. He's been able to show that in the minors. I'm sure he'll be able to show that when he gets here as well."
The numbers will change slightly before the Pirates ultimately summon Alvarez, little more than two years to the day after they drafted him and after just eight months in their minor league system. He is batting .280 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs and 15 doubles. In a clementines-to-oranges comparison, these statistics with the Pirates, in order, would rank fourth (behind Tabata, McCutchen and Walker), first, first and first.
Monday night in Moosic, Pa., Alvarez went 0 for 4 in Indianapolis' 8-6 loss to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and he said afterward he had heard nothing about a possible promotion.
"Honestly, I've been hearing it more from reporters, from guys like you, than from anyone," Alvarez said. "It doesn't affect me one way or the other. Of course, Pittsburgh is where I want to get to, that's where you want to get to, you want to get to the highest level if you play this game. But that's not up to me. What I can do right now, is just keep trying to showcase myself and try to get up there."
On being 1 for 12 this series amid the heightened talk of a promotion: "I'm just trying to keep the same approach. That's something that got me here and something I have to keep doing."
His future teammates expect he will keep doing that well beyond the promotion.
"Obviously, he's very talented," said Zach Duke, like Doumit and Paul Maholm a Pirates mainstay since 2005, waiting for half a decade for future talent to appear in the here and now. "Hopefully, he can come up here ... and be a dangerous, middle-of-the-lineup guy."
"He's raking," added Lincoln, who watched Alvarez fulfill Duke's prophecy in Indianapolis. Yet all ex-Indians teammates talk about Alvarez's play improving at third base, too. "You have confidence when you can stick somebody like that in the lineup who's able to help you in all ways. Not only offensively, but he's been playing solid defense as well. He'll ... bring a spark to this team that's desperately in need of something to get us on a roll, ya know?"
Even the one player most affected by Alvarez embraces his imminent installment at third base.
"The obvious reason for me to move is to get him up here," said Andy LaRoche, who has worked recently at second base and expects to toil at shortstop and first, too. "Hey, I'm all for it if that's going to help our lineup, which I'm sure it will. If he's playing great, and obviously I've been scuffling a little bit lately, he deserves to be up here."
Pirates manager John Russell this past weekend in Detroit lobbed a precautionary volley about expecting too much too soon from Alvarez:
"The biggest thing people need to realize, he's going to have to continue to make adjustments when he gets here. It's not like he's going to step in and be a 30 home run guy from the start. We'd like to believe he has the capability of doing that.
"He's still going to have to go through some adjustments here, just like Neil Walker is going to have to, just like Jose Tabata is going to have to, just like Andrew and Garrett did last year. But it's good that he's starting to really do some of the things we envisioned to get him ready to come up: using the whole field more, driving the ball, staying within himself, getting a few walks. He is going to strike out some. But just be a little bit more consistent -- it looks like the last few weeks he's really started to lock in on that."
NOTES -- The Pirates, like most major-league clubs, this past weekend began signing and negotiating with draftees from early last week. The Pirates signed two pitchers: left-hander Justin Ennis of LSU-Shreveport (33rd round) and right-hander Kevin Decker of College of Charleston (39th). They also invited four senior draftees to a three-day minicamp that starts today with their rookie-league State College Spikes: outfielder Justin Bencsko (20th), catcher Matt Skirving (30th), third baseman Chase Lyles (32nd) and shortstop Kelson Brown (34th).
First Published June 15, 2010 12:00 am