Spring training B games are about as flexible as an Olympic gymnast.
You can have four outs in an inning. Or stop after a certain amount of pitches.
The same batter can hit twice in an inning. Or maybe once in every inning, no matter what’s happening with the lineup.
But, technically, it’s still baseball. And you can’t make a fly ball get hit to right. No matter how much you want it to happen.
That was the hope Friday on a backfield at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, where Pedro Alvarez made his right field debut against a group of Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguers.
It was exceptionally uneventful seven innings of contrived baseball.
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound, 30-year-old Alvarez is trying to make the transition to right after a lifetime on the infield corners.
The only ball hit to him occurred in the sixth – a one-hop liner toward right center that Alvarez had to dive for to make sure it wouldn’t skip by. It wasn’t the smoothest dive in baseball history – the outfield grass took a violent hit from a big man — but it was effective. The runner held at first.
Alvarez said he was joking with his buddy Ryan Flaherty before the game that he didn’t know how outfielders dove for balls.
“And then, lo and behold, it was one of those things where you just let the game kick in, instincts kick in and they just happen,” Alvarez said. “So, obviously, that’s testament to that. It’s always nice to be diving around on the field.”
His cutoff got the seal of approval from manager Buck Showalter.
“He handled that in-between ball all right. Really, you’re better off to keep coming because if you step back, you take that short hop … Once you start going and commit, you’ve got to keep going or you’ve got a chance to get the short hop. He was good,” Showalter said. “Really good at the plate, huh? So much for spring training.”
Alvarez can hit a baseball a long way, even when he hasn’t faced live pitching in months. After going 0-for-4 as the DH in a Grapefruit League game Thursday, he hammered B game pitching Friday.
He homered to straight-away center in his first at-bat against the Pirates’ 24-year-old right-hander, Trevor Williams, who is on Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster. Alvarez doubled in his second at-bat, struck out in his third and then doubled again in his final plate appearance.
He didn’t just shake the rust off, he obliterated it.
“No one just has a swing naturally like that. Obviously, it’s a lot of work. I tried my best, as best as possible, to stay sharp while I was home,” said Alvarez, who had 22 homers for the Orioles in 2016. “Nothing is like seeing a pitcher, but I’m just happy with where I’m at right now and just planning on continuing to get more comfortable and hopefully put some more good swings (together).”
As for not getting a fly ball to catch for seven innings, Alvarez said: “You always want to get some action when you’re out there. But I was ready, ready for it and I’ll be ready for it every pitch when I’m out there.”
The questions now are when will he be out in right again – and when will it happen in a regular spring training game? Showalter said Alvarez will play Saturday in Tampa against the New York Yankees. He hasn’t decided whether Alvarez will DH or play right. A lot, the manager said, has to do with whether Mark Trumbo will be the DH.
Trumbo, Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy all played in the B game, but none made an impact with the bat the way Alvarez did. Those three were all DHs – again, the beauty of B games – but Alvarez took to the field each half inning.
He just didn’t get tested. He backed up first base on a bunt. And, in the first inning, he lifted his hand and signaled that there were two outs like he would at first or third base, but there was nobody behind him to see it, just a wall.
It was all a new vantage point for Alvarez, but one for which he seems pretty enthusiastic.
“Different, different, but I’ve been going out there as much as possible to get a comfortable look and a comfortable feel and I felt pretty good,” he said. “I’m happy with where I’m at. Obviously, when it’s (in) games it’s a little different. But I’m glad I was able to feel comfortable, and I know I’m only going to feel more and more comfortable with each rep that I get.”