Alvarez spins six-hit shutoutJays record back-to-back blankings
By KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency
|Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez celebrates pitching a complete-game shutout against the Angels at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., May 4, 2012. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Reuters)
ANAHEIM - Brandon Morrow drew up the road map 24 hours earlier and Henderson Alvarez simply refined it.
A day after Morrow blanked the Los Angeles Angels 5-0 with a 102-pitch complete-game three-hitter, Alvarez used just 97 pitches to spin a six-hit, 4-0 Blue Jays shutout of his own against the same team.
Just as Morrow had done, Alvarez pounded the bottom of the strike zone throughout, pitching to contact, and the Angels cooperated fully. He struck out just three batters, got eight outs on fly balls and the rest on ground balls, including a pair of double plays. Morrow required 131 minutes to complete his gem, while it took Alvarez one minute less than that.
Jose Bautista belted his fifth homer of the year, a two-run shot to key a three-run third inning. The Jays’ win was their fourth in a row and stretched their scoreless innings streak to 22 innings, having held the Texas Rangers scoreless over the last four innings Wednesday during a 9-5 win in Toronto.
It was the first time Blue Jays pitchers have tossed back-to-back complete-game shutouts since Jack Morris and Al Leiter did it in June of 1993.
“This was just another outstanding pitched game, right from the first pitch to the 97th,” said manager John Farrell. “He stayed in his delivery well and threw a lot of first-pitch strikes and a lot of strikes overall. We saw his overall composure in the 10 starts he made last year and it continues even now.”
As they did in the series opener a night previous for Morrow, the Jays struck for three runs to stake Alvarez to an early cushion. Catcher Jeff Mathis worked Angels starter Ervin Santana for a one-out walk to start the rally. With a full count on Kelly Johnson, Mathis was in motion with the pitch and stayed out of the double play when Johnson grounded to first baseman Albert Pujols.
With Mathis at second, Yunel Escobar singled on a line into centre to score the game’s first run. On the very next pitch, Bautista drilled his fifth homer, a two-run shot over the fence in left-centre.
Alvarez was in complete control of the Angels’ lineup from the very start, using just 34 pitches to get through three innings and 60 to get through six. He called this game “the best I have ever pitched.”
“He’s a contact pitcher, a groundball pitcher,” said manager John Farrell. “There’s going to be less swing and miss with that type of pitcher. Sometimes you just take a guy for who he is. He’s a very good athlete who is always going to have a high ground ball rate so there’s no reason to be concerned with the swing and miss.”
The sinking action on all of Alvarez’s pitches forced hitters to beat the ball into the ground in most instances.
“He has a heavy sinker that he’s going to throw on the plate,” said the manager. “He’s going to throw strikes. He’s typically getting more contact early in the count. Over time, as he gains more consistency in the strike zone, he might be able to elevate his fastball to get some swings and miss, up. But that will only happen if it’s a natural progression for him.
“There’s been a lot of successful big-league pitchers who have had low swing-and-miss rates but high ground ball rates.”
Farrell even predicted that Alvarez would be quite capable of pitching this type of gem, though he had no idea it would unfold just hours later.
“Under the right set of circumstances, against an aggressive team with a lot of strikes early in the count,” said Farrell. “Even if a guy gets on with a base hit, getting two outs with one pitch has been something he is adept at. Alvarez has that ability.”
The two double plays were the 35th and 36th of the season turned by the Blue Jays, most by any team in the major leagues.
“Our defence was very well positioned throughout the game,” said Alvarez, through interpretor Luis Rivera. “They made several really nice plays behind me. I always know that I am the type of pitcher who is going to make the other team swing the bats and my defence backed me up.”
Toronto scored its fourth run in the top of the ninth on a fielder’s choice by Brett Lawrie. The Jays subsequently loaded the bases but Johnson struck out to end the rally.
“In the first inning I knew my sinker was moving really well,” said Alvarez. “I figured if it continued like that, this was going to be a good game for me.”