TORONTO-Sunday was a difficult day for Henderson Alvarez both personally and professionally.
On the mound, the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander was lit up for eight runs on 12 hits in Sunday’s 11-2 loss to the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre.
Following the game, it was revealed that Alvarez had learned of a death in his family Sunday morning. He declined to speak with reporters following the game, apologizing through a team spokesperson.
Whether or not the personal loss had any effect Alvarez’s performance Sunday, the 22-year-old’s turbulent sophomore season appears to have reached a new low after showing signs of possibly turning a corner less than a week ago.
Five days ago, the Venezuelan appeared to have found something in a strong, seven-innings outing against the Chicago White Sox. But on Sunday, before 35,000 under a sun drenched sky, the only thing Alvarez seemed to find was the middle of the Texas Rangers’ bats.
The 12 hits allowed raised Alvarez’s season total to 177, the second most in the American League. Opponents are hitting him a healthy .301 clip on the season and his ERA now stands at 4.84.
Prior to the game, Blue Jays manager John Farrell revealed that the team felt Alvarez had recently become too wrapped up in trying to be someone else. They noticed he had developed a more pronounced twist to his body during his delivery, and as a result, his pitches were going off-track and his slider was losing its bite.
In their eyes, the reason behind the subtle change in Alvarez’s delivery was simple: he had started to mimic the delivery of his fellow Venezuelan and idol, Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
“His countryman is a guy he really looks up to,” said Farrell. “So he incorporated a little more of that turn and while in his mind I think it felt good and looked good, maybe getting back to the basics allowed him to be more consistent.
“He looks up to Felix Hernandez, and you know what, who wouldn’t, but I think at the same time he’s got to be Henderson Alvarez.”
So prior to last week’s start against the White Sox, Alvarez cut down on the body twist and he and the Blue Jays came away from his strong outing with some renewed hope.
On Sunday, Alvarez didn’t come close to resembling Hernandez, in appearance or results. Following the game Farrell said his delivery was fine, but poor location and a lack of separation between his fastball and changeup — another area of concern for the Blue Jays — allowed the Rangers’ potent offence to dial in on him.
“I didn’t think he used his secondary stuff enough, particularly as they started to be aggressive early in the counts,” said Farrell. “There was a first-pitch, fastball approach that they took advantage of. I thought as far as his delivery went, he repeated what we had seen his last time out.
“The effectiveness, the overall consistency just to not only work ahead in the count, but the overall mix, wasn’t quite there today.”
During his post-game comments Farrell made no mention of the death in Alvarez’s family and it is not known whether he was aware of it before or following the game.
Earlier in the day, Farrell said Alvarez will need to learn how to change speeds more effectively if he is to avoid some of the struggles that have plagued him for most of the season, including Sunday.
“I think in time he’ll gain a greater feel for when to take more off and then he can throw a more finishing type of changeup with more violent late action as a put away pitch as well,” said Farrell. “I think that’s all part of his experience and maturity as a pitcher.”
THE BIG PICTURE: The loss dropped the Blue Jays to 56-64 on the season and concluded a miserable 10-game homestand at 3-7 as they prepare to head out on a nine-day, nine-game road trip beginning Tuesday in Detroit. The Jays have now lost five of their past six series going 5-15 over that span. With the win, the AL West-leading Rangers improved to 70-50.
THE ARMS: Alvarez cruised through the first two innings before running into trouble in the third, when he gave up four straight hits (including a pair of doubles) to open the frame and put the Rangers in front 2-0. Back-to-back strikeouts of Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton helped Alvarez escape without further damage. Most of the Rangers’ damage occurred in the five-run fifth, highlighted by a three-run shot to centre off the bat of Michael Young (No. 4).
Brad Lincoln got the final two outs of the fifth, but ran into trouble of his own in the sixth, surrendering a pair of runs on a Young ground-rule double. Steve Delabar and Brandon Lyon worked a scoreless seventh and eighth respectively while rookie Chad Jenkins gave up a solo shot to David Murphy in the ninth.
In all Blue Jays pitchers surrendered a season-high 19 hits on the day.
THE BATS: The Blue Jays could muster only two hits off of Texas starter Matt Harrison, who was brilliant over eight innings of work, striking out seven. The two Blue Jays runs came courtesy of utility man Mike McCoy. Starting at third on Sunday, McCoy contributed an RBI fielder’s choice in the second inning and then went deep to left field in the fifth inning for his first home run of the season and just the third of his career.
MORROW READY TO RETURN? On Sunday Brandon Morrow threw 81 pitches in 4.2 innings of work with the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats as he continues to rehab from an oblique injury.
The 81 pitches are significant because Blue Jays manager John Farrell has said he’d like to see Morrow reach that total before determining whether the right-hander is ready to rejoin the big league club.
Morrow gave up two earned runs on four hits to go with two walks and four strikeouts. In four rehab starts between single-A and double-A, Morrow posted a 1.72 ERA with 14 strikeouts over 15.2 innings.
JAYS MAKE ROSTER MOVE: Following the game the Blue Jays announced that Yan Games has been optioned to triple-A Las Vegas and that a corresponding move would be made prior to Tuesday’s game in Detroit.
In 32 games this year with Toronto, Gomes – the first Brazilian ever to play MLB – posted a line of .171/.233/.329/.562 with three home runs and 10 RBIs.
“You never look forward to getting optioned down, but it was bound to happen,” said Gomes. “I knew something was going to happen so I just have to go back to the drawing board. I kind of lost the feeling a bit at the plate and started getting frustrated too much.
“Just go back, start working on things again and hopefully, get back up here.”
MORE INJURY UPDATES: Prior to the game Farrell revealed both Brett Lawrie (oblique) and Jose Bautista (wrist) remain on track to rejoin the team later this week in Detroit and Baltimore respectively.
Lawrie was removed from a scheduled rehab game Saturday in Dunedin due to poor field conditions while Bautista is on his way down there now following a batting practice session in Toronto Sunday morning.
When asked whether Bautista could return to the Blue Jays lineup Friday in Baltimore, Farrell said it’s a “realistic possibility.”
“Brett’s return is imminent and hopefully Jose’s is not too far behind,” said Farrell post-game.
David Cooper, who was originally penciled into Sunday’s lineup at first base, was a late scratch with back stiffness. Edwin Encarnacion, who was originally scheduled to DH, shifted over to first with Jeff Mathis assuming DH duties.
“He spasmed coming out of batting practice,” Farrell said of Cooper. “It’s day-to-day, but he was unable to go today.”
Regarding Lind, Farrell said his progression as he recovers from a back injury is “ramping up,” and they hope to get him into a rehab game by Tuesday.
#bluejays Farrell on Lawrie: “We don’t have an exact number of at-bats that frees him from health purgatory. He’s with Dunedin today.”