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Third Baseman Alvarez's woes won't cost him roster spot with Pirates

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Monday, March 26, 2012

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — An anemic batting average in spring training will not knock Pedro Alvarez off the Pirates' Opening Day roster.

On Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington shot down suggestions that Alvarez, who is batting .133 and striking out at an alarming rate, could begin the regular season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

"We'll see where he is health-wise," Huntington said. "But, the rumors of him starting at Triple-A have never come from the Pirates. It's been outside speculation. It's not what we've thought (of doing). We asked him to do some things coming into spring training, and he's done those. He's going through a tough stretch right now. Are we going to be able to get him out of it• We believe we will."

Alvarez has not played since Thursday due to what he and the team have said is minor inflammation in his left knee. Huntington did not rule out the possibility of Alvarez playing today, either in the Grapefruit League game against Baltimore or in a camp game with minor leaguers at Pirate City.

"Right now, the knee doesn't seem to be that big of an issue," Huntington said.

In 31 plate appearances this spring, Alvarez has four hits (two of them homers) and 13 strikeouts. His on-base percentage is .156.

"We don't want to respond over-the-top to good or bad (performance)," Huntington said. "Certainly, there are some areas of concern. There's been some positive signs as well."

A left-handed batter, Alvarez's struggles are especially evident against lefty pitchers. Huntington indicated Alvarez and outfielder Alex Presley, another lefty batter, might be benched early this season against southpaws.

"While I don't anticipate a platoon setting, we may protect some of our young left-handed hitters against the likes of (Clayton) Kershaw, (Cliff) Lee and (Madison) Bumgarner," Huntington said.

Last season, a quadriceps injury limited Alvarez to 74 games with the Pirates. He hit .191 with 80 strikeouts in 235 at-bats.

Alvarez has hit well in the minors, and Huntington wondered if there would be much to gain by having him spend more time at Indy.

"There are times when guys are able to get away with flaws at Triple-A that they can't get away with at the major league level," Huntington said. "He may be one of those guys. There are guys who are tremendous Triple-A performers, and they need to learn and adjust at the major league level. We can't put too much stock in Triple-A performance, good or bad, or spring training performance, good or bad."

Management urged Alvarez to play winter ball this past offseason. Instead, Alvarez worked out with a personal trainer in California.

"He did what he needed to do this offseason; he's in good physical shape," Huntington said. "For a long time this spring, he was swinging the bat well, but he's gone through a tough stretch (recently).

"It's not the first or last time he's going to go through a tough stretch. The microscope just happens to be a lot sharper on Pedro right now. He just needs to relax and play. The ability is there. He's going to be a good big league player. He's going to be a threat in the batter's box. He's got to let it play."

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