Abe Alvarez Debuts


Abe Alvarez makes his major league debut, hurling five innings for the BoSox on 7/22/04. Image credit redsox.com
Abe Alvarez was called up by the Boston Red Sox to start the day game against Baltimore, saving the Red Sox from having to use one of their five regular starters on short rest. Alvarez, 21, had been the subject of two previous Fire Brand of the AL columns, the first questioning whether we should bring him up or not, and the second with some comments from people who saw Abe first-hand in college and an update on his minor league stats.
Abe Alvarez debuted today, and this is what will go in his career line as his first start:

Player IP H R ER BB K HR ERA
Alvarez (L, 0-1) 5.0 8 5 5 5 2 2 9.00

Is it just me or was the home-plate umpire, Chris Guccione, squeezing Abe? Now, this doesn’t come as much as a surprise considering that Alvarez is a rookie. If you are a rookie, you do not have any respect and you have to earn that respect. The strike zone is dictated by parameters in the rule book, but it is also dictated by your reputation. Hell, everyone knew that Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine got strikes on the outside corner because they were who they were. They were not flamethrowers, they lived on the outside corner and were able to get those calls because they won, they pitched, they were star pitchers, and no one, not even the batters, had issues with this. They knew going up that the strike zone would be larger, just like the Orioles knew today the strike zone would be lower. Abe Alvarez is not a flamethrower, he is another Tom Glavine, a slower Barry Zito, one who lives on the outside corner. The umpire is not going to give rookies leeway with this, and therefore Abe had to keep creeping inside. The Orioles would just lay off the ones they wanted to bite at because they knew the umpire would call it a ball. They waited for an 85-MPH fastball to come into the zone, and they’d knock it.
As Abe increasingly gets respect, he will get the calls on the outside corner. For now, he will have to live dangerously. It seemed Dave Wallace, Terry Francona, and Jason Varitek were reluctant to have Abe switch gears, as this was how he had pitched, the reason he had gotten here. Have we seen the last of Abe? Absolutely not. Abe will return in September. For now, he returns to Double-A Portland, but he is now on the 40-man roster. Rotoworld.com agrees with me that Abe will return in September, but then says the Red Sox would prefer not to give Abe any more starts. Rotoworld is a great source, and is usually dead on with opinions, but I think they’re wrong. I think they would not hesitate to give Abe another start. Consider this: Abe gave up three runs in the first inning, then two in the final four. That’s called “butterflies”, and Abe got over them.
Fire Brand of the American League’s official ‘mascot’ is none other than Tim Wakefield, who appears in the masthead above. I can say with 100% certainy that when Tim (god forbid) is done, Alvarez will take Wakefield’s place. That’s assuming Abe is still with the team and hasn’t been traded. But you know, I like to think the brass would have some sort of brain and keep Abe. Abe was (21 years, 9 months) the youngest pitcher to make his debut with the Red Sox since Jeff Sellers did it on Sept. 15, 1985. Sellers made 12 starts the next year, the year of … 1986.
Dave Isaacs, from California, is spending the summer in Boston. He is one of the Athletic Supporters writers, and has a very funny GM Chat that gets face time on MVN’s home page. At my prodding this morning, he attended the game (and rooted for the Orioles). Nonetheless, he came back with some interesting things to say, which follow.
Alvarez, who has been compared to Orel Hershiser and Jamie Moyer, really didn’t strike me of either of those in his major league debut. Instead, he reminded me of a Barry Zito — with a curveball not nearly as devastating. To start the game, Alvarez established his fastball. He started the first three hitters (Roberts, Newhan, and Mora) with 16 fastballs — but only 8 for strikes.
He walked Roberts on eight pitches, struck out Newhan with a high fastball, and watched Mora creamed a pitch to the opposite gap (right-center). As I was sitting in right field behind the pole, I wasn’t able to get a good look at how well Alvarez controlled the inner and outer halves of the plate. After the first couple of innings, in which Alvarez relied almost exclusively on his fastball to get outs — which topped out at 87, by the way — he begun to mix in his curve and changeup. He was clearly deceptive, fooling Newhan in the first and Larry Bigbie in the fourth.
Alvarez’s problem throughout the entire afternoon was throwing all of his pitches for strikes — as evidenced by the fact he threw 49 of his 95 pitches for strikes, in addition to walking five on the afternoon. To add insult to injury, Alvarez fell behind (2-0, 2-1) in the count 11 times out of the 25 batters he faced. By comparison, Lopez fell behind only four of the 27 he faced. And of those 11 that Alvarez fell behind to? They combined to go 5-6 with 5 walks.
There’s no doubt that Alvarez’ 2.6 WHIP represents his first major league start better than the 9 ERA. Abe allowed the leadoff hitter to reach in four of five innings, made a good pickoff move to catch Hairston sleeping off third base in the second inning to stifle a rally, doubled up Miguel Tejada in the third when he lost count of the outs on Javy Lopez’ popup, and caught Javy Lopez trying to go home on Hairston’s double in the fifth. To Alvarez’ credit, though, he did a solid job in the fourth when Dave Newhan grounded out with the bases loaded.
Bottom line? Alvarez knows how to keep hitters off balance, but has nothing without his command — much like Zito. Some pitchers can fall back on their stuff with shaky command, but Alvarez just isn’t one of those guys.
There is one part of this that I find interesting. Alvarez established his fastball, throwing it sixteen times in the first inning? With a fastball topping out at 87? Who do you blame for this – Dave Wallace, Abe Alvarez, or Jason Varitek? I put the onus on Wallace and Varitek. Alvarez is a rookie, just called up. He is a yes-man at this point in his career. Dave tells Abe what to do. Jason puts his finger down, Abe throws what Jason says. Therefore shouldn’t it be obvious to Wallace and Varitek this is a guy that needs to mix his pitches up and not keep peppering fastballs in there? As the game went on, I noticed Alvarez mixing in more pitches, so that’s good. But you can’t “learn” a pitcher during a game. Dave and Jason should have been aware his fastball tops out at 87 and he is not a guns-ablazing guy. Abe should have mixed his pitches from the get-go.
It was a lost game, as the offense could never get going on the enigma that is Rodrigo Lopez. He sure enjoys pitching in Fenway Park. Let’s trade for him so he makes half his starts in Fenway Park, eh?
Rookies have provided some of the greatests moments for the Red Sox so far. Earlier in the year, Kevin Youkilis had his first MLB hit which was also a HR. The Red Sox refused to congratulate him, and he high-fived the air going into the dugout. Good times, and that was repeated today when Alvarez trotted out to the mound, hat askew ala C.C. Sabathia of the Indians and Dontrelle Willis of Florida. The entire team on the bench wore their hat askew. Curt Schilling looked hilarious, as did all the other members of the Red Sox.
Onto the night! Wakefield v. Borkowski.

We all await the return of Abe.