Cook: Alvarez puts on a show
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You want to know why the Pirates don't do the easy thing -- the popular thing -- and send third baseman Pedro Alvarez out to Class AAA Indianapolis?
It's not so much the two home runs that Alvarez crushed Saturday, although they were oh so tantalizing and showed the incredible power the man has. One went 376 feet, the other 401 feet. They were big parts of the 9-2 win against the Cleveland Indians, a much-needed win for the Pirates because it snapped a four-game losing streak and an appealing win because the team excelled at the plate, on the mound and in the field.
But there's much more to the Pirates' patience with Alvarez. Part of it is obvious. "We don't have anyone else who can do what he can do," manager Clint Hurdle said. But the other part of it might just blow you away. "In the 37 years I've been in baseball, I haven't been around too many guys who can hit it like he does," Hurdle said. "I'm talking about sound and swing and distance. The guys I've seen do it like that, I can count on one hand."
So Hurdle did, rattling off the names of Willie Mays Aikens, Josh Hamilton, Larry Walker and Jack Clark.
"I put Pedro in that group."
That's why the Pirates stick with Alvarez despite his hideous statistics. That's why Hurdle keeps running him out there nearly every day. It often isn't easy. Alvarez was hitting .118 in June before Saturday and was in a 1-for-19 slide. He hadn't hit a home run since May 27 and just one since May 3. His RBI in Baltimore Thursday night was his first of the month.
Pirates fans can't call the talk shows quickly enough to complain about Alvarez. They want him sent down, traded, released. Hurdle hasn't wavered with Alvarez, but he did show his frustration last week. He met with Alvarez privately Wednesday and then used his pregame radio show to call him out about his approach at the plate. Hurdle said it was the last time he was going to talk to Alvarez about that subject. It sounded very much as if he gave him a last-chance ultimatum.
Then, Alvarez goes out and hits two rockets against the Indians to provide the Pirates' first run and their final two runs.
Tantalizing is the only word to describe Alvarez's power and potential.
"You're absolutely right on about that," Hurdle said. "It isn't easy, but we've got to hold fast with him because that's what he can do. We know it's not popular. But, sometimes, when you're in a leadership position, you have to be willing to take the ridicule. I'll be that guy. I think [general manager] Neal [Huntington] is willing to be that guy."
Hurdle has a tough line to walk with Alvarez. He's trying to develop him as the Pirates' long-term thumper, yet he's also trying to win games now. He has 24 other players to consider, not just Alvarez. Heaven knows many of the other hitters have their own significant problems. But they can't help but notice how little Alvarez had done before Saturday.
"I don't ask for opinions, but I watch the other guys and see the way they're pulling for him," Hurdle said. "They're all in for him. They're still all in because of the way he works and goes about his business and hasn't isolated himself from anybody. They want Pedro to do well. We all do."
Saturday's game was terrific for Alvarez, but it was just one game. How long Huntington and Hurdle stick with him remains to be seen. For the first time this season, the team has an option at third base. Casey McGehee was brought in to be that guy during the offseason but did nothing the first two months of the season to warrant playing time. Now, suddenly, he's hot. He had another multi-hit game Saturday with a home run and four RBIs.
"I don't think competition is ever a bad thing," Hurdle said.
For his part, Alvarez said he's worrying only about what he can control. "All I can do is follow the process and keep working hard. I know the results will come."
He said he wasn't aware of what he was hitting in June, but that's hard to believe. It also was difficult to believe him when he said about the possibility of a demotion to Indianapolis, "That thought has never crossed my mind."
After that conversation with Hurdle?
"I think when Clint said we weren't going to talk anymore he just meant he was going to give me the opportunity to play and not overanalyze anything and just try compete," Alvarez said.
Maybe the game against the Indians was the start of something big for Alvarez. That's what Hurdle is thinking. That's what Alvarez is thinking.
"I know I can play at this level," Alvarez said. "I know I have the talent to do it."
It showed Saturday.
Now is the time to show it a lot more.
First Published June 17, 2012 12:00 am