When the Tigers lost Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez for brief periods during the 2013 season, it was Jose Alvarez -- a non-roster player at the start of the season -- who was called upon to fill in temporarily. When the Tigers needed a left-handed pitcher in the bullpen, Alvarez was summoned again. He remained on the postseason roster as a reliever.
Alvarez is a 24 year old left-hander who was initially signed in 2005 by the Boston Red Sox as an international free agent. He was later traded to the Florida Marlins in the deal that sent Jeremy Hermida to Boston, and then let go by Florida after the 2012 season. He was quickly signed by the Tigers less than a week after his release.
In 38 2/3 innings of work for Detroit, Alvarez posted an unimpressive 5.82 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, allowing opponents to hit .280/.353/.513/.866. His splits include a 5.14 ERA as a starter and 7.58 in relief. He wasn't particularly effective when starting, relieving, against right-handers or left-handers, at home or on the road. He will have to do better in 2014 if he wants to spend much time in the major leagues.
Alvarez has been a starting pitcher his entire career. His numbers in eight minor-league seasons are more promising than what he showed last season in Detroit, with a career ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.21. He is one of the better pitchers on the Tigers farm in terms of his walk rate, with a 2.2 walks per nine innings ratio. He was unable to translate his solid numbers from Toledo to Detroit last season.
In his only postseason appearance in the major leagues, Alvarez threw three scoreless innings against the Oakland A's in relief of Anibal Sanchez. He allowed no runs, no hits, one walk, and struck out three in a 6-3 Tigers loss in Game 3 of the ALDS.
Key to success
With five pitches, but none that average above 90 mph, Alvarez needs to command his fastball much better to translate his solid Triple-A numbers to the next level. Opponents hit .321 against his fastball, and he gave up six home runs, all off breaking balls with the Tigers.
Outlook for 2014
Alvarez figures to start the season in the Toledo Mud Hens' rotation. If the need for a starter arises during the year, the Tigers will likely call up a left-hander. Alvarez, Kyle Lobstein, and non-roster lefties Duane Below and Robbie Ray warrant consideration. Whichever pitcher is pitching the best at the time figures to get the call. Bullpen duty is not out of the question, particularly if the team wants a left-hander in the long relief role.