ShareThis Page

Alvarez powers Pirates past Cardinals

| Friday, April 4, 2014, 11:27 p.m.
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez scores past Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during the sixth inning Friday, April 4, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez scores past Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during the sixth inning Friday, April 4, 2014, at PNC Park.

Looking the other way is key for Pedro Alvarez.

Ask Pirates hitting coach Jeff Branson, ask manager Clint Hurdle, and they will say if Alvarez better employs the whole field, if he more often focuses on left field, he could stay on off-speed pitches better and unlock his potential.

What is the former No. 2 overall pick's ultimate upside? Hurdle said over the winter it could be similar to that of Baltimore's Chris Davis, who went from an all-or-nothing slugger to an MVP candidate last season.

Alvarez gave a glimpse of that potential Friday in a 12-2, series-opening victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Alvarez recorded his eighth career multi-home run game. His first home run went well over the left-center field wall in PNC Park, and his second came off a changeup, a pitch that has given Alvarez fits his entire career.

Just three of Alvarez's 36 home runs last season went to the opposite field. But in the second inning, Cardinals starter Shelby Miller left a fastball out over the plate, and Alvarez crushed it well over the 383-foot sign in left.

In the fourth, Alvarez nearly lofted a changeup out of the stadium, a shot that landed 448 feet away in right-center. Alvarez was the seventh-worst hitter in baseball against changeups last seasons, according to

Alvarez tied for the NL home run lead last season, but he hit .233 and struck out in almost a third of his plate appearances. The Pirates believe Alvarez showed signs of maturing as a hitter this spring that have carried into the season.

“The last five or six at-bats before tonight got our attention,” Hurdle said. “He finished up the extra-inning game with a sharp single to left. He drove a ball to the wall that was caught. The first couple at-bats (Thursday) he squared a ball up to right-center, lined out again to left field. He's been patient. He's been stubborn in his approach. It paid off.”

Also noteworthy was that both of his home runs came with two strikes. Last season, Alvarez hit .115 with two strikes. He finished with three RBIs and added a steal.

Alvarez, who did not speak to reporters, led a 16-hit Pirates night to support an efficient Gerrit Cole, who was making his first start of the season.

Cole's fastball velocity was there, touching 99 mph in the first inning. But Cole's curveball, the pitch that allowed him velocity separation and to emerge as the Pirates' best starter in September and October, was not in late-2013 form.

Cole generated just six swings and misses, though he struck out Kolten Wong with a sharp breaker to end the seventh.

Cole threw a hanging 83 mph changeup in the fifth that Matt Carpenter slashed over the Clemente Wall for a two-run homer, cutting the Pirates' lead to 3-2.

Still, Cole's line was solid. He allowed two runs and six hits and walked two in seven innings, striking out three.

“I started to find a little more feel,” Cole said of the later innings. “It was a struggle getting the ball where I wanted it to go.”

The other 23-year-old, second-year starting pitcher Friday continued to struggle with the Pirates.

Miller entered with an 0-4 record and 5.32 ERA against the Pirates and allowed five runs, six hits and three home runs in 5 13 innings. In addition to his troubles with Alvarez, Miller also surrendered a fourth-inning home run to Travis Ishikawa in the fourth, Ishikawa's first major league homer since May 15, 2012.

“I just didn't have anything going tonight,” Miller said. “I'll own up to not pitching very good.”

The Pirates also beat up the Cardinals bullpen as Gaby Sanchez, Russell Martin, Travis Snider and Jose Tabata added RBI singles. An Andrew McCutchen two-run triple gave the Pirates an 11-2 lead in the eighth, as the Pirates continued their run of dominating the Cardinals on their home field.

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.