When Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos talks about bolstering his starting rotation with major-league proven talent this winter, intentionally or not, he is putting pitchers like Henderson Alvarez directly in his crosshairs.
Alvarez, at the age of 22, has now made 40 career starts, 30 of them this year. That includes Monday’s 5.2-inning, four-run outing in a 4-1 loss to the Orioles. He will get at least one more start this season and has made some strides in the second half of the season but if Anthopoulos is able to follow through on his aim to upgrade the starting staff in the offseason, Alvarez could be one of those “depth guys” the GM has referred to who will be at triple-A Buffalo.
Monday’s outing was, in many ways, typical of Alvarez’s season. He was solid, with swing-and-miss stuff early, but once again was stung by the home run ball. His tendency to leave his changeup up in the strike zone resulted in Adam Jones’ 32nd home run, a two-run shot that provided the only runs Baltimore would need.
Alvarez also gave up another solo homer to second baseman Ryan Flaherty but that was on a good pitch, down in the zone. Alvarez finds himself among the league-leaders in home runs allowed with 28 on the season.
There is no question that Alvarez has talent to be a force in the Blue Jay rotation but the need for a third pitch to complement his fastball and changeup is a problem that has lingered since he arrived in the big leagues in August 2011.
In his past two starts, Alvarez has struck out 13, a development that is related to the hard work he has done to perfect his change.
“I have more confidence on the mound,” said Alvarez. “I’m being more aggressive with the changeup. The key for getting those swing and misses is the arm speed on my changeup and that is improving.”
That said, he knows that strikeouts are not his bread and butter.
“I like to pitch to contact. If I can get an out on one or two pitches, that’s fine. I’m not trying to strike out people. Because the changeup has been getting better, maybe that’s why I’m getting a few more strikeouts.”
Still, the message from the GM is that the rotation has to be better in 2012. Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow will be a part of that and so, too, will be persons unknown just now. If Alvarez is to be one of them, his development has to accelerate.