PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The 2019 season was supposed to be José Alvarado's breakout season. It was the year the talented left-hander was set to take the next step and establish himself as one of the best and most recognizable relievers in the American League.
Instead, Alvarado’s season went awry.
On the field, Alvarado struggled to find consistency with his command despite starting the season with a 1.38 ERA in his first 14 appearances. He finished with a 5.79 ERA in his final nine appearances in May, walking nine batters over 9 1/3 innings over that span.
Away from the mound, however, Alvarado dealt with bigger issues. His mother, Crelia, was dealing with an illness for a second straight year, which ultimately led to Alvarado leaving the team for nearly a month in order to attend the family issue.
Alvarado said the concerns about his mother’s health and the financial problems in Venezuela caused him to have thoughts about a possible early retirement. Conversations with his parents over the offseason helped ease his mind, and the decision to bring his parents and his wife to the United States was what helped Alvarado make the decision to keep playing.
“There were times that I thought I didn’t want to play, it wasn’t easy,” Alvarado said. “I had some good talks with my parents. They would always tell me that everything will work out and that I’m going to be fine.”
Now that he’s back in camp, Alvarado is looking to return to form and prove he could, once again, become a dominant piece in the Rays’ bullpen. He believes he has a clear mind heading into 2020 and is focused on his command as pitchers and catchers reported on Wednesday.
“I’m just focusing on my health,” Alvarado said. “At this level, the only thing that matters is throwing strikes and getting outs. That’s the most important thing.”
For the Rays, having Alvarado and focused would be a big addition to a bullpen that led the Majors with a 3.66 ERA last season. After trading Emilio Pagán, who led the team in saves, to the Padres, Tampa Bay is going to look for other pitchers to step up in late-inning roles.
When right, Alvarado is certainly capable of filling the void left by Pagán. Despite his struggles last season, Alvarado possesses one of the best sinkers in the AL, a sharp cutter and his fastball velocity still ranked in the 96th percentile last season.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting him comfortable and making sure he’s quieting his mind and going out there and doing what we all know he’s capable of doing,” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “As talented as he is, he has the ability to win reliever of the year. There’s no doubt about that. … It’s just a matter of getting in the zone and feeling confident with who he is again.”
Alvarado knows that he’ll have to prove to his teammates, the coaching staff and the front office that he can perform at a high level again, but he’s looking forward to that opportunity.
“Everyone in the front office and on the team helped me out, and now we’re here and I’m more calm,” Alvarado said. “I know that everything will be OK and now just leave it up to the hands of God. Just focus on my job.”
Rays agree to deal with Loup
The Rays and veteran left-hander Aaron Loup agreed to a Minor League deal with an invite to camp on Tuesday. With the addition, Tampa Bay's Spring Training roster is now at 65.
Loup, 32, is an eight-year veteran, finding most of his success during a seven-year run with the Blue Jays. Throughout his career, he is 12-20 with a 3.45 ERA. With rosters expanding to 26 players, Loup will compete for one of the final spots in the Rays’ bullpen.