TORONTO - Henderson Alvarez ended on a good note, and so too did the New York Yankees.
The Toronto Blue Jays starter came up with one of his better efforts Sunday at the Rogers Centre, but after he left the game in the seventh with a 5-2 lead the Yankees staged one of their better comebacks. The Bronx Bombers crushed the Jays bullpen for seven runs and left town with a 9-6 triumph.
In September, it’s all about wins for teams sniffing the post-season.
For teams such as the Jays, it’s about individual growth and how they set up for next year.
In his final start of 2012, Alvarez saved his best for last. In his six innings of work he allowed the two runs on seven hits. He struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.
Alvarez ends the season with a 9-14 record and 4.85 earned-run average. He’s also just one of just two Jays pitchers to make all of his starts, Ricky Romero being the other.
Although he doesn’t have a guaranteed spot in the rotation for 2013, it’s hard, barring trades, not to see Romero, Alvarez and Brandon Morrow holding three of the five positions.
“Henderson threw the ball exceptionally well (Sunday),” Jays manager John Farrell enthused. “He had very good stuff, good power to his fastball, very good changeup with a lot of depth and swing-and-miss ability. I thought in his final start it was important for him to end on a strong note.”
Overall, Farrell is pleased with what Alvarez has given him.
“He’s met a number of challenges head on,” Farrell said. “When he started out the year he was throwing the ball very well. The middle part of the year he kind of lost his feel for his secondary pitches and his fastball had a little more lateral movement than sink. He got through that stretch and made a very good adjustment with his changeup.
“As a result of the adjustment to his changeup, he’s pitched with more confidence. He knows he’s got another weapon in his back pocket to go to in point in time. It’s allowed him to relax and locate his fastball with consistency.
“He moves into the off-season I would think with a lot of confidence about the way he’s pitched late in the season.”
Last fall the apple of Farrell’s eye was Brett Lawrie. In spring training this season it was Yan Gomes.
Now, though, Farrell has pivoted his man-crush towards rookie second baseman Adeiny Hechavarria, a player with enormous talent who seems to be improving every game.
With incumbent Kelly Johnson about to become a free agent, Hechavarria is expected to take over at second for the Jays in 2013. If Yunel Escobar is traded away, Hechavarria could instead take over at his natural position, shortstop.
In Sunday’s pre-game scrum with Farrell, a question was asked of Anthony Gose, and after a short reply, Farrell, without prompting, launched into his praise of all things Hechavarria.
“Hech hit a pretty good pitch (Saturday) off the right-field wall (in the sixth inning against Joba Chamberlain to drive in the Jays’ winning run in a 3-2 victory),” Farrell said out of nowhere. “He’s impressive, he really is. A damn good looking player.”
Farrell also was bowled over with Hechavarria after his year-end meeting with him.
“When you get a chance to speak and an opportunity to get to know them that much more, he’s impressive with his thoughts, his self discipline. He’s a bright young looking player. If you took a picture of him today, it’s almost like he’s a Roberto Clemente picture of 1962. He’s just got a look about him that speaks the game.”
Hechavarria came into Sunday’s game on a 10-game hitting streak where he had gone 11-for-32 (.344). The streak, though, ended there as he went 0-for-4.
On Saturday, facing Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, Farrell sat left-handed hitters Colby Rasmus and Kelly Johnson and instead went with Gose in centre field and Hechavarria at second.
On Sunday, even with right-hander Phil Hughes on the mound for New York, Farrell didn’t start his two veterans and went back to the rookies Gose and Hechavarria.
“Colby’s OK, yeah. Just looking at the way right-handers have handled Hughes with some other individuals and how they’ve swung the bat against Hughes,” Farrell said. “That’s the way we’re going.”
Both Rasmus and Johnson have been struggling as of late. Rasmus is batting .150 (6-for-40) over his past 11 games and is 0-for-9 lifetime against Hughes. Johnson is batting .186 (21-for-113) with 41 strikeouts over his past 34 games and is 1-for-9 in his career against Hughes.
So, the decision at this point is an easy one. Let the kids play.