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Pirates notebook: Alvarez revisits approach at the plate

| Saturday, May 24, 2014, 7:33 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez bats during the second inning against the Nationals Saturday, May 24, 2014, at PNC Park.

Pedro Alvarez always has been a confounding, frustrating player. And Alvarez never has been more perplexing than this spring.

For the first time in his major league career, Alvarez has shown improvement in some areas.

Alvarez entered Saturday's game with a career-best walk rate, walking in 11.2 percent of plate appearances, and a career-low strikeout rate (21.8 percent). Alvarez is striking out in 8 percent fewer plate appearances compared to his career average.

But Alvarez also entered Saturday's game with a .213 batting average and was moved out of the cleanup spot for a second straight game.

Hitting coach Jeff Branson worked on instilling an all-fields approach with Alvarez this spring, and the two met earlier in the week to talk about Alvarez's struggles.

Alvarez has put nearly as many balls in play to left field (38) as his pull-side (45), but the results are lagging.

“He revisited his approach with Branson, about what (Branson) wants him to do at the plate. Branson asked for a specific time to stay with it,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We revisited some of the things last year that had success. (Alvarez) thought he was still doing them, we revisited, and maybe he wasn't quite in alignment with some of those things.

“He has the ability to hit the ball out of the park from line to line. We want to see him look for balls up. We want to see him look to bang the ball to the big part of the field. He's on board with that. Sometimes it's reps. Sometimes it's more experience. Sometimes it's the game getting better of you. He's experienced all of that.”

Alvarez has been the victim of bad luck. PNC Park's deep left field has robbed him of some home runs. But Alvarez also is hitting fewer line drives, popping up more and converting fewer of his fly balls into home runs.

“I've had more conversations with this guy than probably any position player that we've had here just about what he's feeling, what he's seeing, how he's going about his work,” Hurdle said. “He's a cerebral kid who cares a lot. We remind him to not overcook things. The No. 1 thing is get a good pitch to hit.”

Ike likes Pittsburgh

Since coming over in a trade from the Mets at the end of the April, Pirates first baseman Ike Davis — again in the cleanup spot Saturday — is batting .293 with a .382 on-base percentage. Davis was batting .208 at the time of the trade.

Hurdle said Davis' confidence level has spiked.

“When we first talked about Ike in the past as a guy to possibly bring in, (we liked) the on-base percentage, the ability to hit the ball line to line,” Hurdle said. “We said, ‘Don't let the park change the kind of hitter you born to be.' In his own way, he's calmed some things down.”

Grilli eased back in

While Jason Grilli recorded a save Friday in his first game off the disabled list, Hurdle said he might not immediately resume the closer's role.

“I'm curious to see how he feels (Sunday),” Hurdle said of Grilli. “It was a very aggressive workload: two sim games, a day off, I want to make sure we monitor his health. He threw some good pitches. I think his command has room for growth to get him back.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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