Alvarez homer lifts Pirates past Nationals
The Pirates always have wanted Pedro Alvarez to be their cleanup hitter. They've spent the past four seasons waiting for him to settle into the role.
Manager Clint Hurdle finally ran out of patience.
On Friday, Hurdle dropped Alvarez to sixth in the batting order and placed Ike Davis into the No. 4 spot. The move paid immediate dividends.
Davis went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and Alvarez clubbed a two-run homer as the Pirates hung on to beat the Washington Nationals, 4-3.
“You believe in your guys,” Hurdle said. “A manager likes to think that sometimes he has a good feel for his guys. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But I believed in the moves we made.”
Right-hander Charlie Morton (1-6) got his first victory in 10 starts this season. Jason Grilli, activated off the disabled list before the game, survived a 23-pitch ninth inning to notch his fifth save.
“My confidence was good. My fastball was live,” Grilli said. “I'm ready to get back to doing this again.”
It was just the second time in 30 games since being traded to the Pirates that Davis hit cleanup. Alvarez, who lugged a .212 average into the game, was dropped sixth for the first time this season.
“It's to provide more consistency through the lineup,” Hurdle said. “I'm not even looking for power. I'm looking for the quality of the at-bat, moving the chains and getting the bat on down the line.”
Over 42 games in the fourth spot, Alvarez drove in 24 runs — but 15 came via homers. He stranded 100 runners.
Alvarez's descent in the batting order doesn't figure to be a one-time event. Hurdle has been plotting it for some time and talked to Alvarez about it a few days ago when the team was on the road.
When he hits sixth, Alvarez has a career .250 average and .784 on-base plus slugging percentage. In the four hole, where he usually batted while with the New York Mets, Davis has a .240 average and an .806 OPS.
“Hitting cleanup is not a new situation for Ike,” Hurdle said. “Pedro has shown some historical success hitting sixth. So we'll see how it goes.”
It went well Friday, helping the Pirates score four runs off right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (3-2).
Davis led off the second inning with a single. Russell Martin, in his first at-bat since coming off the disabled list, lashed a double to left field.
Alvarez struck out looking at an 86 mph fastball on the outer edge of the strike zone — a close call.
Starling Marte's grounder scored Davis and moved Martin to third base. With Clint Barmes at the plate, Martin scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0.
In the fourth, Davis slapped another leadoff single. With one out, Alvarez crushed a 1-0 changeup and planted the ball among the shrubbery at the base of the center field batter's eye.
“If I could take one pitch, (it would be) the changeup to Alvarez and we win the game 3-2,” Zimmermann said. “I left it up, and he put a pretty good swing on it. If I get it down and away, where I wanted it, he rolls over on it and it's a double play.”
It was Alvarez's ninth homer — his first since May 5.
That was enough support for Morton to claim his first victory since Sept. 2, 2013. Morton worked 52⁄3 innings and allowed a run on five hits, walked four and struck out four.
As usual, Morton began the game firing mostly four- and two-seam fastballs. The sinker netted two quick ground outs, then got finicky on him and led to a pair of walks. Morton got out of the jam by getting Ian Desmond to bounce out to short.
The curveball started to come into play in the second inning when Zach Walters was frozen by a beautiful bender that caught the outside corner for strike three. Morton walked Nate McLouth, but that was merely two-out caution with the pitcher on deck.
Morton put at least one runner on base in every inning but was able to avoid big trouble until the sixth.
Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos singled. Morton hit Desmond in the back with a two-seamer. Greg Dobbs' sacrifice fly made it 4-1.
After he struck out Walters, Morton was replaced by Jared Hughes. McLouth's sharp bouncer was snagged by Davis, which ended the inning.
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
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