One of the most encouraging signs in today’s Pirates game against the Toronto Blue Jays came in the second inning. Pedro Alvarez came up to the plate, and faced a shifting Toronto defense. For the second day in a row, he beat the shift by going opposite field. This time he hit a fastball away, and hit it hard right to where the third baseman normally would be without the shift.
Alvarez is a guy who gets shifted on a lot, and if he can find a way to consistently go opposite field, he could take away that defense against him. While MLB talks about possibly removing the shift, the real solution to this strategy should come from a change with the hitters. The ones that are facing the shift need to adapt, and find a way to hit the ball so that a shift would be ineffective. Alvarez has been trying just that.
“He’s been working hard at being a better hitter, being a more complete hitter,” Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle said after the game. “We don’t want him to back off. We want him to get his swings off. But to be cognizant of that fastball away, can be hit early in the count. He’s shown a very nice approach the last couple of days about just covering the ball, hitting the ball where it’s pitched.”
Cervelli Showing Off the Defense
Francisco Cervelli had a nice block in the first inning on a Gerrit Cole slider in the dirt. With runners on second and third, Cervelli quickly slid over to the left-handed batter’s box to make the block, keeping the ball in front of the plate, and preventing a run from scoring. Toronto did score a run that inning, but it would have been two runs had Cervelli allowed the ball to pass. Hurdle talked after the game about how Cervelli excels at this skill.
“We’ve seen him do it,” Hurdle said of his blocking. “I first put my eyes on him in 2010 when I was in Texas, and watch him catch. The ability to get in front of the ball, to block the ball, to take the sting out of it, keep it in front of the plate. It’s very impressive. It’s one of his strengths.”
A Big Difference For Worley This Year
Spring Training in 2015 for Vance Worley is going a lot better than Spring Training in 2014. He didn’t have a great outing today, giving up two runs on two hits in two innings of work, although he caught a tough break for those runs to score. As for his stuff, he’s in a much better place this year than last year. I asked him about how his pitches feel, and his one complaint was very specific.
“The one pitch I couldn’t get today was my backdoor, front hip sinker off of a lefty,” Worley said, while mentioning that his other pitches feel good. That’s a huge change from what wasn’t working for him last year. And what were those things?
“Everything,” Worley said. “Last Spring was awful. Fastball command was terrible. Breaking ball was terrible. Couldn’t get a strike one. Couldn’t get a strike two or three. That’s why I got sent down, and picked up here. Got back on my feet, and here we are trying to get it going again.”
Andrew Lambo Getting More Comfortable
Clint Hurdle said that Andrew Lambo is getting more comfortable in big league camp. Lambo had a chance to win the first base job last year, but played his way out of a job with poor performance at the plate. He went down to Triple-A and started hitting for power for the second year in a row, and now he finds himself once again on the inside track for a roster spot — this time going for the final bench spot.
“I think he has been a guy that has been able to learn as he goes along,” Hurdle said. “I think he’s gotten to a point that he understands that the maturity level needs to play. Slow heartbeat, control what you’re in control of, have fun, work hard. He’s done a lot of those things. I think at times he can really put a lot of heat on himself. And we’re just trying to get him to play the game. Not work the game. You don’t have to prove anything here, you need to improve. And I think he’s taken some steps forward in every year, but especially coming into this Spring.”
Here are the lineups for tomorrow, with the mid-game reserve players on the bottom.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.
Sitting here in a snowstorm.
Is the game today either on the radio or tv?
If he would just use the whole darn field instead of trying to pull everything, that’s all I could ask.
He’d go through spurts of a week or two where he would do it, then overconfidence would invariably creep in, and he’d regress. Just hit what they give you, and going the opposite way for a single is better than a weak grounder ANY day.
Basically what the Pirates told Jose Bautista to do. How’d that work out for him?
Did Bautista take the Pirates advice though? Or is whatever miracle cure the Jays found for him unrelated? If I recall, some type of mechanical adjustment, as opposed to a change in methodology.
The mechanical change was him getting his front foot down sooner, it was a timing issue. that’s it.
Not according to Jose Bautista.
Don’t get me wrong, a complete, all-fields hitter is clearly the best way to go.
But that absolutely doesn’t mean *every* hitter should be forced into that mold. Bautista is simply the most glaring example right now, and while I’d never predict Pedro reaching those full heights, I think the similarities are there.
I’m also not saying Pedro should be forced into being a total all-fields hitter. He just needs to wake up and realize he’s not going to be able to pull or muscle every ball for a hit or a home run. Take a little, give a little is all I’m hoping he’d do. He’s still their best their home run threat. It’s the little things that will make him more of a complete hitter.
I don’t completely disagree, but last year he *did* give a little, to the tune of increasing the percentage of balls in play to LF by almost 10%. That doesn’t happen by accident.
What he got for his effort was a 10% drop in his HR/FB rate and no increase in BABiP. PNC Park isn’t kind to guys in the LC gap.
There’s a very clear argument to be made that he’s at his best when he’s focusing on maximizing the impact of contact when he makes it, and evidence strongly suggests that is by pulling the ball.
The Pirates infamously tried forcing him to be an all-fields line drive hitter, despite always showing strong pull power tendencies.
The Blue Jays were willing to encourage him to play to his strengths, opened up his swing, and allowed the player he is now to take off.
I’m far from qualified to make definitive statements on matters of swing mechanics, but it does seem that Pedro has made some adjustments over the winter, specifically with his hands and load. This spring his bat is resting on his shoulders, keeping his hands lower and more on plane with the pitch, whereas in the past his hands would end up above his shoulders before firing down through the zone.
I don’t intend to imply any prediction of results with this comment, but Dan Farnsworth famously noted a similar change in JD Martinez last winter before he broke out in a big way. Keeping the bat through the zone longer will certainly help the chances of *quality* contact to the opposite field, so let’s hope these first two spring game are a sign of more to come.
Ihave been consitently hard on pedro over the past couple of years. I have never questioned his talent or commitment just his consistency. If the move to first makes him a more stable force for the pirates then by all means let the big dawg eat. ( at least for one more year)
If Pedro can start to beat the shift more, and carry over his walk (10.1%) and K (25%) rates from last year, then he should have a very big season.
His ability to have a big season is entirely predicated upon pitch recognition and pitch recognition only. You can’t hit a curveball/slider/changeup if you can’t tell the difference between said pitch and a fastball. Pitchers will just throw changeups away and he will continue missing them or roll over on them. Noone ever doubted his ability to hit a fastball, this really does nothing to help him because he is continuing to see less and less fastballs in the hitting zone