JUPITER, Fla. -- Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez carried his no-hit momentum over into Spring Training.
Alvarez, who no-hit the Tigers in the 2013 season finale, opened his Grapefruit League action on Friday by tossing three perfect innings in a 7-3 win over the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.
Showing pinpoint control, Alvarez threw 26 pitches, 19 for strikes. He was only supposed to throw two innings, but he did that in 16 pitches. So he went out for a third. His fastball maxed at 93 mph, and he kept the Cardinals off-stride with his breaking stuff. He even dazzled with a super slow curveball, one fluttering in at 65 mph. Matt Adams was way out in front on a swing and miss.
"I think he just picked up where he left off, throwing strikes and scoreless innings," manager Mike Redmond said. "I wasn't sure how he was going to feel without really pitching yet this spring. It looked like he was feeling good and pounding the strike zone. It was good to see."
The reason Alvarez hadn't seen game action yet is because he was shut down for a few days due to an infection on his right shin. The shin is better, and the fact that he pitched in winter ball in Venezuela didn't cause him to fall too far behind.
Alvarez projects as the Marlins' No. 3 starter, but that could change. In the eyes of the organization, his no-hitter provided a lift to a team that lost 100 games.
"I think of that as a highlight to a rough year," Redmond said. "It was the start of a productive offseason. We all drew momentum and kind of got a big lift out of that game. That game kind of energized us. We were like, 'This is what we have to look forward to with our pitching staff.'"
With Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi and Alvarez, the Marlins feel they have a formidable top three. They identified their rotation as a strength, and set out in the offseason to add more offense.
Through free agency, they signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Rafael Furcal and Jeff Baker.
"We had to figure out a way to build some offense into this team, and energize it and give it some more depth," Redmond said. "We looked at that game as a stepping stone to staying focused this winter on improving this ballclub. That was a big mental boost for all of us. We all left there thinking, 'This is a big way to finish the season.'"
Alvarez's no-hitter was even rarer because he wasn't able to celebrate on the mound. The Marlins edged the Tigers, 1-0, on a walk-off wild pitch. So Alvarez ended up being mobbed by his teammates near home plate. He had been standing on deck when the winning run raced home.
"I felt good," Alvarez said through a translator of his outing Friday. "I was just trying to keep the ball in the zone and let the batters swing and just throw strikes."
In the offseason in his home in Venezuela, Alvarez was well-received because of his season-ending no-hitter. Omar Vizquel, the veteran shortstop who now is the Tigers' first-base coach, was among the many who congratulated Alvarez. The righty also heard from some of his former Blue Jays teammates, as well as his winter ball club.
"It was big for me," Alvarez said. "It gave me the belief to keep following my dreams. This winter in Venezuela, I prepared myself to be ready in the spring and to continue my success."
Alvarez has kept the ball and glove from his no-hitter, and his cleats were sent to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"I was very well-embraced in Venezuela, from the fans to the writers," he said. "They congratulated me."
The pace and rhythm Alvarez displayed on Friday looked as if he was in mid-season form.
"He looked good," Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright said. "He's nasty. He threw a 65-mph curveball one time, a 93-mph sinker after that. He's good."
The slow curveball is a pitch Alvarez threw on occasion last year, and he showcased it on Friday twice.
"It's just a pitch I throw every now and then to catch the batters off-guard," Alvarez said. "It's something I started last year."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro.