By now, you know the story. Jose Alvarez took a no-hitter into the fifth inning in his major league debut before Ryan Raburn screwed everything up by hitting a solo home run. Alvarez ended up pitching through the sixth inning, allowing three hits and just the one run. He also struck out seven hitters and earned his first major league win.
So, how did he do it? Alvarez doesn't have the stuff of Max Scherzer or even Drew Smyly, but was still able to baffle the Indians hitters for an afternoon by mixing his pitches effectively and hitting his spots. Here is a look at a couple of at-bats to show how Alvarez got the job done today.
One thing that Rod and Mario talked about towards the beginning of today's broadcast is that Alvarez had done a good job of changing speeds while pitching in the minor leagues this season. This continued today, but was especially apparent when pitching to Carlos Santana in the second inning.
First, let's give credit where it's due: as the catcher, Alex Avila is responsible for calling pitch types and locations, the two major components that fall under the overarching "pitch sequencing" category. Veteran pitchers like Justin Verlander can call off pitches when they see fit, but a rookie like Alvarez is going to go with anything and everything that Avila calls. Everything below is a result of both Avila's game management and Alvarez's execution.
Alvarez starts off Santana with a slow breaking ball on the outside part of the plate for a strike.
Santana, an excellent fastball hitter, was likely looking for the first pitch fastball, especially given that this at-bat immediately followed a walk to Mark Reynolds. As long as Alvarez doesn't hang the pitch in the middle of the plate -- something he does later to Ryan Raburn -- he probably won't even induce a swing from Santana. As was the case for most of the afternoon, Alvarez hits his spot.
Now that he's ahead in the count, Alvarez can go pretty much anywhere. Fastball inside? Fastball away? Changeup anywhere except down the middle? Nope, Alvarez goes back to the same exact pitch.
Yes, those are two different GIFs. Santana is frozen again, and is now in an 0-2 hole. Alvarez has even more freedom than on the previous pitch, especially considering Santana has been known to swing at bad pitches with two strikes.
On the 0-2 pitch, Alvarez speeds up the breaking ball a bit, throwing an 82 mile per hour slider that misses down and in.
This -- attention Tigers bullpen -- is what you do with an 0-2 pitch. Santana lays off for a ball, bringing the count to 1-2. More importantly, he didn't hit it 400+ feet, which is better than we can say about the aforementioned bullpen at times.
On the next pitch, Alvarez throws another breaking ball on the inside part of the plate. Santana is a little ahead of it, but manages to foul it off to stay alive.
By now, Santana is probably thinking that he's not going to see a fastball in this at-bat. He's behind in a 1-2 count and Alvarez has been spotting his breaking ball. Alvarez could either go back to the breaking ball here or he could go with a changeup.
Instead, Alvarez goes with the fastball.
Alvarez gets away with a less-than-ideal spot here, leaving the ball higher than Avila initially wanted it. However, the sequencing leading up to this pitch -- all breaking balls, remember -- meant that Santana wasn't catching up to the heater, even if it was only 90 miles per hour. The sequencing in this at-bat is just one of several examples of Avila and Alvarez working well together this afternoon to keep the Indians off balance.
Alvarez worked exclusively from the stretch today, a very unconventional approach in today's game. However, his delivery differs from most players in that he turns his hip slightly, hiding the baseball from opposing hitters for a split second longer than usual. Fox Sports Detroit captured an excellent view of this on a pitch to Mark Reynolds in the second inning.
This quirk to his delivery makes it especially hard on left-handed hitters to pick up the ball. The hip turn combined with his 3/4 arm slot -- a slot that he repeats on all his pitches, another reason why he was successful -- gives lefties the impression that the ball is coming from behind them, traveling across their body.
Michael Bourn had trouble with this, particularly when Alvarez threw his breaking ball.
There isn't much to add here, as it's pretty clear how silly Bourn looks on these swings. Fun to watch, though.
Overall, it was nice to see Alvarez have a solid debut. His upside is limited by his lack of overpowering stuff, but there are a multitude of pitchers -- lefties, especially -- that have carved out solid careers by pitching exactly like Alvarez did today.
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