Alvarez 'continuing to amaze' as Opening Day nears

March 28th, 2023

SUGAR LAND, Texas -- might not have played all nine innings against Triple-A Sugar Land on Monday as was originally scheduled, but he looked good while he was out there.

Alvarez went 1-for-3 with a hard-hit double in the Astros’ 3-1 exhibition win over the Space Cowboys, their Triple-A affiliate.

Alvarez, who played in left field for the first five innings, grounded out to third on a full count in his first at-bat and struck out looking on a full count in his second before hitting the double, which left his bat at 103 mph, through the right side. The left-handed power hitter has been slowed by a hand injury for much of Spring Training.

“They threw [Alvarez] some tough pitches,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Whoever pitches against him pitches their best. He’s continuing to amaze us because I don’t know many guys that can be at this level this soon.”

Baker said Alvarez did not play the whole nine innings due to travel issues the Astros dealt with Sunday night, which delayed the team’s arrival in Houston until after 3 a.m.

Alvarez appeared in two Grapefruit League games and went 2-for-7. Despite a lack of playing time this spring, Baker said Alvarez was “close” to being Opening Day ready.

“He’s close, but a close Yordan is better than most,” Baker said.

As Alvarez appeared near-ready for Opening Day, right-hander  was trying to turn a solid spring into a spot on the Opening Day roster. Blanco continued his strong spring on Monday, tossing three scoreless innings, yielding one single with two strikeouts.

Blanco, who threw 19 of his 33 pitches for strikes, consistently hit the mid-90s with his fastball and was aided by two double plays.

“I thought I pitched well, even though I felt a little bit slow today in my body, but I think I made a good adjustment,” Blanco said through an interpreter.

The scoreless outing capped a spring in which the 29-year-old allowed just one run over 17 innings between six Grapefruit League appearances and Monday’s exhibition. Blanco went at least three innings in each of his final three outings of the spring, all starts.

The right-hander said he thought he had done enough to make the Opening Day roster, and Baker said the roster could be finalized as early as Tuesday.

“I think it’s just another goal achieved for me,” Blanco said of potentially making the Opening Day roster. “When I went to the Dominican Republic [for Winter ball], I went with the mentality to make the team and make the adjustments I wasn’t able to last year when I was up there.”

Blanco began the 2022 season with Houston but was sent down on May 2 after allowing five runs in 6 1/3 innings and spent the rest of the season in Triple-A.

Prior to Monday’s game, Houston general manager Dana Brown was complimentary of Blanco’s work and the possibility of stretching him out.

“He’s a big dude,” Brown said. “He throws a lot of strikes, and he’s got three pitches. Sometimes he will show you the fourth pitch with the curveball. We’re excited about stretching him out. We hope to keep him stretched out depending on what we do with the roster.”

Brown said the race for the final roster spots was coming down to the wire, with a handful of position players and catchers still in the mix.

“We have some guys who are getting after it, having some pretty good springs,” Brown said. “... It’s a total of eight guys that we have narrowed it down to for the three spots total when you talk about hitting and pitching.”