Yordan Alvarez has a penchant for staying prepared.
Alvarez didn’t miss a beat on Friday against the Rays after returning from the COVID-19 injured list, collecting two hits in five at-bats. In typical Alvarez fashion, he smoked a single at 114.7 mph, his hardest ball this season. For Alvarez, Friday’s loud return was not the first time he’s immediately bounced back after missing time.
When Alvarez returned from his first stint on the COVID-19 injured list in late-April after missing four games, he slashed .364/.444/.591 across 27 plate appearances from April 20 to April 27. That sustained excellence in spite of missed time doesn’t appear to be coincidental.
It’s also worth remembering that Alvarez essentially missed the entirety of the 2020 season, limited to only two games and nine plate appearances. Most players might need several months to rediscover their rhythm and flow at the plate -- but not Alvarez, who just keeps hitting.
So, what's been the key to Alvarez’s constant success, even with these layoffs? The beauty lies in the simplicity.
“He has a pretty simple approach,” said manager Dusty Baker. “He doesn’t have a whole bunch of moving parts. That’s what helps him to not lose his timing much.
“Most big guys have a whole bunch of moving parts in order to get their swing started and continue through the ball, but he has a pretty simple approach,” Baker said. “It’s very smooth, especially -- like I said -- for a big guy.”
There isn’t much to Alvarez’s mechanics. He has a low leg kick and short stride. He doesn’t have much upper-body movement either -- his hands don't gear back, but rather stay in the same place as he strides, always ready to unload. That formula leads to a replicable swing, and that replicable swing leads to replicable results.
When asked to compare Alvarez to past players who were good at repeating their mechanics, Baker brought up several prominent sluggers that he’s managed: Moises Alou, Derrek Lee, Ellis Burks and Barry Bonds.
“No matter what, it seems like their stroke is always close to being how it is on an everyday basis,” Baker said.
As good as Alvarez has already been this season (149 wRC+), he's yet to be the best version of himself. Through 81 plate appearances, Alvarez only has two home runs and three walks (3.7 BB%). Alvarez has certainly shown what he can do with consistent playing time. As he settles in, so will the patience and power.
Alvarez playing at the peak of his power will only further gas up Houston’s offense, which has already been among the league’s best. Entering Saturday, the Astros had a 114 wRC+, per FanGraphs -- the second best in the league. When Alvarez starts clicking, the Astros' lineup becomes all the more menacing.
“We haven’t seen the best of him yet, because he’s not hitting the ball out of the ballpark yet,” Baker said. “Usually, that comes in time.”
Odorizzi progressing well
Jake Odorizzi (forearm) is "making good progress” and is scheduled to throw on flat ground on Saturday and Sunday, according to Baker.
Odorizzi, who was transferred to the 10-day IL on Monday, was removed from last Saturday’s start against the Angels after recording one out and throwing only five pitches.
The right-hander has been limited to just eight innings in three starts this season, allowing nine earned runs and three homers in his limited appearances.