TORONTO - Imprisoned for 10 days at home while recovering from pneumonia, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Farrell was able to step back and see some things on TV about his team that aren’t always evident from the dugout.
One of those things was the icy calm of 21-year-old pitcher Henderson Alvarez.
“When the camera would pan in on him there was no change in expression no matter who was on base or what the count was or who the hitter was,” Farrell said. “It was just a window into the calmness and the poise that he has when he’s on the mound. He doesn’t fear contact.”
Alvarez’s apprenticeship this September can’t be seen as a straight line in any direction. At 21, he’s already well ahead of his ETA to the big leagues and the learning curve is large.
But each time out he continues to make a convincing argument that this might be where he belongs.
Saturday, he took on the Yankees’ powerful lineup for the first time and while the Jays ended up on the wrong side of a 7-6 score, Alvarez was again impressive as he rolled through five strong innings before hitting a wall in the sixth.
With help from a very good defensive play by centre fielder Colby Rasmus, Alvarez was able to take a 6-1 lead into the sixth before Alex Rodriguez popped his balloon with a three-run homer, part of a four-run inning.
Despite that, Farrell felt that Alvarez had something solid he could take from this game.
“He can take away the knowledge his stuff is good enough to go against the best in the game,” Farrell said. “A little different location of pitches in a couple of occasions, we’re not looking at a five-spot on the board. At this early stage of his career, his body language and his poise are quite rare. He has no fear.”
With Alvarez out of the game in the seventh, Curtis Granderson put the Yankees ahead to stay. At the end of a 12-pitch at-bat that included seven consecutive foul balls, Granderson belted a Carlos Villanueva pitch over the centre-field wall for his 40th homer, a two-run shot.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Granderson,” Farrell said. “He fouled off four different types of pitches in those seven foul balls. We kept him in the big part of the ball park, but the ball was carrying and he hit it out.”
The Jays jumped on starter Bartolo Colon for four runs in the second inning, sending eight men to the plate. Adam Lind singled to lead off and went to third on David Cooper’s single. Lind scored on Rasmus’s double to right and then Cooper scored on a groundout by Brett Lawrie. Adam Loewen walked and then Jose Molina cashed another run on a ground-rule double to left. Mike McCoy made it 4-0, scoring Loewen on a sacrifice bunt on the first-base side.
The Yankees scored a run and threatened to strike for more in the fourth but an outstanding running catch deep in right-centre by Rasmus, coupled with some bad Yankee base-running, intervened.
With runners on second and third after a Granderson walk and a Mark Teixeira double, Toronto’s left fielder Adam Loewen dropped a catchable fly ball off Robinson Cano’s bat, scoring a run and putting runners at second and third. Alex Rodriguez’s groundout to third failed to move the runners and then Nick Swisher smoked a ball toward the gap in right-centre where Rasmus tracked it down. Meanwhile, Teixeira scrambled back to the bag, attempting to tag up and advance, but Cano, oblivious that the ball had been caught, passed Teixeira at third base to retire the side.
“The catch in the outfield was tremendous,” Farrell said. “He was off at the crack of the bat. He had a great jump on the ball and you look at that inning, it was a four-run differential. We’re looking at two runs for them that they didn’t get and we come back to score two more.”
After that gift, the Jays tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the fourth on a Mike McCoy double that cashed Rasmus and Lawrie ahead of him.
Down 6-1, the Yanks responded with four runs in the sixth. Rodriguez, making his first start in a week because of a sore thumb, keyed the uprising with a three-run homer, his 16th of this injury-plagued season.
Alvarez has now pitched 52 innings in the big leagues after tossing 88 innings at double-A New Hampshire before being called up on Aug. 10.
“This is the first time he’s ever pitched in September so we’re still protecting him somewhat with the number of innings he’s pitched at his (young) age,” Farrell said.
Alvarez is still trying to incorporate a slider into his repertoire to go with his fastball and change.
“He’s showing he can get through a lineup two and three times with predominantly fastball-changeup,” the manager said. “But we’re not just going to settle for that. If we can add a quality third pitch, he’ll be able to attack a lineup with more consistency.”