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Biertempfel: Pirates' Alvarez continues improvement at third base

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 9:57 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez makes a diving play to retire the Cubs' Scott Hairston during the second inning Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at PNC Park.

There were a lot of great storylines during the 8-2 homestand the Pirates wrapped up Thursday.

They humbled the hated Brewers. They mashed two home runs that splashed down in the Allegheny River. There was a walkoff homer in extra innings, that freaky walkoff error, a 7-1 rout and five one-run nail-biters.

Francisco Liriano and Wandy Rodriguez notched two wins apiece. Andrew McCutchen kept torturing opposing pitchers.

Here's what stood out to me: Pedro Alvarez doing a spot-on Brooks Robinson impression in practically every game.

On Tuesday, Alvarez robbed the Cubs' Cody Ransom of a hit by diving to snag the ball, then firing a two-hopper to first base from his knees.

The next day, Alvarez made three fine plays — twice, he had to go to his left, which has always been his weakness — to help preserve a 1-0 victory.

In the homestand finale Thursday, he sprinted into foul territory, scaled the rolled-up tarp and reached into the stands to make a snow-cone catch of David DeJesus' pop-up.

Later, Alvarez wasn't eager to brag. Not even a little.

“I don't feel any more comfortable than I did last year,” Alvarez said with a shrug. “I feel pretty confident in my glove. Every day, the more you work on it, the better you feel. I wouldn't say it's a drastic difference.”

The numbers say otherwise.

Last season, 124 big leaguers fielded at least one ball at third base. Among those, Alvarez ranked 113th with a .926 fielding percentage. His 27 errors at third were the most in the majors.

This year, Alvarez has made six errors in 114 chances, (.947). Among everyday third basemen in the majors, he ranks 18th in errors and 16th in fielding percentage.

And fewer fielding flubs are only part of the story. Alvarez's throws across the diamond have been better, too. More accurate and more powerful than before.

“Pedro's always had a good arm,” first baseman Garrett Jones said. “But when he sets and throws and really gets off a good one, it's a heavy ball. It's got a lot of carry on it. It hits your glove and it's ... boom! You feel it. If you don't catch it right, it'll sting you a little bit. He's definitely got a cannon.”

Every year, there are questions about whether the Pirates eventually will be forced to move Alvarez to first base. Alvarez, who played third at Vanderbilt, insists he would resist such a change.

Management generally has been supportive, though usually with “if” or “maybe” qualifiers. Hurdle issued another one Thursday.

“Pedro hears the noise about, ‘Will you move?' '' Hurdle said. “As long as Pedro continues to show me the effort, the energy and the attitude to play third base, that's where he's going to play. Because, as he showed, he can be more than an adequate defender.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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