With control, Alvarado 'arguably the best'
LOS ANGELES -- Joe Girardi said last week that he will live with the bad because José Alvarado’s good is really, really good.
It was fantastic on Wednesday at Dodger Stadium.
Alvarado struck out the side on 11 pitches in the seventh inning and pitched a perfect eighth in a 2-0 victory over the Dodgers. He threw 22 pitches, including 18 strikes. Eighteen. The last time Phillies fans saw Alvarado, he walked three with a wild pitch and a passed ball in a nearly disastrous 10th inning on June 10 against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. He threw 29 pitches. Only 14 were strikes.
“I don’t care about the team or who’s hitting,” Alvarado said earlier this week. “My plan is always the same. Stay in the middle. Focus on the glove, and that’s it. I know I throw hard, and sometimes it is very hard for me to hold my control. I know I walk a lot of people, but I’m working on it.”
If Alvarado throws strikes like he threw them Wednesday, he could take off as a truly elite reliever. And, one day, he could make a boatload of money.
“He can be as good as he wants,” Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham said. “The more he gets 'me vs. you' with the hitter, the more he gets into that compete mode, he’s really, really good. He’s arguably the best.”
Alvarado is 5-0 with a 3.04 ERA in 23 2/3 innings. He has struck out 32, but he has walked 22. Alvarado ranks among the top 4 percent of pitchers in baseball in average exit velocity (85 mph), expected batting average (.162) and expected slugging percentage (.259).
Essentially, if he throws strikes, he is almost unhittable.
“That is the fundamental question when we talk and when he’s doing his work,” Cotham said. “He’s just a pretty fast mover, a pretty dynamic mover. The delivery is different at times. But it’s every pitcher, right? When my delivery is right and my ball is moving how I know it’s going to move, I can aim correctly.”
Alvarado located Wednesday. He struck out Mookie Betts swinging on a 98.8 mph sinker to start the seventh. He struck out Gavin Lux swinging on a 100.4 mph sinker and Chris Taylor looking on a 100.6 mph sinker on the inside corner.
Alvarado’s average sinker this season is 99.3 mph. Only the Yankees' Aroldis Chapman throws harder (100.9 mph).
But the velocity is not the cause for Alvarado’s occasional command issues.
“It’s how much his ball moves with his slide and sinker,” Cotham said. “They’re darting. They’re cutting sometimes. There’s a little bit of work in like shoring up the delivery to at least know what’s coming. I think that’s where his growth is going to come. And he’s done a really nice job at times, and sometimes it’s not what he wants, either. I think it’s using the delivery as a proxy.
"When that’s right, then I know what’s coming a little more from a ball-flight perspective and then I can plan for it better, I can aim better. But when it’s doing a couple different things in an outing, it is tough. When my delivery is a little different, too, then I’m trying to control for like seven things and I’m just trying to get to the point where it’s one thing and it’s where I aim.”
Alvarado offered one theory for what makes him his sharpest. He says on those occasions when he warms up in the bullpen and does not immediately enter the game, he loses power and command. In other words, if he warms up, he wants to pitch.
But overall, Alvarado likes where he is. He said he is in a better mindset than the past couple of years, when he worried about his mother’s health. He had stopped working out and gained too much weight. The Rays lost faith in him, so they traded him to the Phillies on Dec. 29.
“Everything has changed. Everything is different,” Alvarado said.
He entered Spring Training at about 255 pounds, more than 30 pounds lighter than he finished last season with Tampa Bay. He has maintained his workouts and diet. In fact, he might be too regimented.
He is currently about 247 pounds.
“I’m very happy. My body is different,” he said. “I feel more power in my body. But they say 250 is good. They said I’m moving good, everything is good. They want me to stay in that 250-260 range. I don’t need to go below that. But I’m eating better foods now. I’m not eating bad foods anymore. I’m not drinking soda. I’m not drinking beer. It’s my coffee, my water and my good food. That’s it.”
If he can just sprinkle in a few more 100 mph sinkers on the corners, everything would be perfect.