Henderson Alvarez doesn’t strike a lot of people out. That’s kind of his thing right now. The 22-year-old throws a power sinker and has a terrific change-up to go with it, but to this point in his career it’s possible that he just hasn’t figured out how to put people away yet.
One assumes that as he gains experience, he’ll have a better strikeout rate — given his great stuff — but until he does Alvarez will occasionally fall victim to The BABIP Monster, and it happened Thursday night against the Royals.
The BABIP Monster, of course, represents the vagaries of Batting Average on Balls In Play. That is, the fact that once bat meets ball, the pitcher has very little control over what happens. Hard-hit line drives find fielders’ gloves, little nothing bloopers drop in for hits, ground balls sneak through the infield — the more often the ball is in play, the more often bad things can happen to a defence.
Alvarez looked as though he had no-hit stuff through the first two innings, retiring the first six Royals he faced on three strikeouts (I know, right?), two grounders and a fly ball. He went into the third riding that wave and got ground balls from the first three hitters. The difference in that inning was that one of the grounders could only be knocked down by Brett Lawrie deep down the third-base line, and another was just outside the reach of a diving Kelly Johnson and skipped through to the gap in right-centre for a double. Four inches to the right, and it’s an inning-ending double play ball.
Such are the ways of The BABIP Monster. Alvarez could have had another perfect inning, but instead found himself with runners at second and third and one out. He then walked Alex Gordon to load the bases, hopeful of getting the ground ball double-play that would get him out of the inning unscathed.
Alvarez got his ground ball. It got through to right field for an RBI single that opened the scoring. After that, Alvarez gave up his first and only line drive of an inning that would see him give up five runs on five hits, facing ten batters. It was a single to Billy Butler. The next four hitters went ground ball (single plus a Lawrie throwing error), walk, lazy fly ball (sacrifice fly), ground ball (out). It was an inning from which the Blue Jays couldn’t recover — they cut the deficit to two runs a couple of times, but got no closer — and it was a glowing example of how pitching to contact can bite a guy hard every once in a while. The hope is that it only happens once in a while.
Outside the 41-pitch third inning, Alvarez’ line looked like this: 4.1ip, 3h, 0r, 0b, 3K. 16 batters faced, 13 outs. Imagine how different things could have been if some of those third-inning ground balls had been hit in the right places.
Francisco Cordero has become the favourite target of Blue Jays fans with his occasional bullpen blow-ups, and he had the bullseye strapped on once again Thursday night, bitten early by BABIP. Cordero came on in the eighth with the Blue Jays down two, thanks to J.P. Arencibia’s second home run of the night, and proceeded to get two ground balls, both of which went for hits. He then allowed a line single to centre to load the bases with nobody out before getting another ground ball (force at the plate) and breaking Alex Gordon’s bat (bloop RBI single to right). Cordero then struck out Alcides Escobar for the second out of the inning, still with the bases loaded, and followed with a move that lost him any possible goodwill from an unlucky outing.
Cordero got a ground ball off the bat of Eric Hosmer that both Edwin Encarnacion and Kelly Johnson went to get in the hole between first and second. Johnson got it, turned to throw to first and Cordero had yet to make his way over there. Two runs scored, when the inning would have been over had Cordero simply done his job. That’s Spring Training stuff — grounder to the right side, go cover first. One would expect that especially a veteran guy like Cordero, who is well aware of how the fans feel about him, would be doing absolutely everything he can to get good results. But forgetting to cover first base stands out so incredibly glaringly. It’s inexcusable. For me, anyway, that’s the thing, more than anything else, that makes me not want to see Cordero out there in big spots anymore (not that down two in the eighth is necessarily a big spot — I mean, you’re not going to use Frasor, Oliver or Janssen there). It takes no talent at all to run to first base from the pitcher’s mound when there’s a ground ball hit to the right side. I’m not saying Cordero’s failure to do so cost the Blue Jays the game — who knows what sort of new space-time continuum would have been created had he simply done his job? — but what we do know is that had he been there, the Blue Jays would have trailed by three runs going into the bottom of the eighth inning, not by five.