Learning curve still apparent for Alvarez

Learning curve still apparent for Alvarez

MILWAUKEE -- With his 0-for-3 night Friday in Milwaukee, Pedro Alvarez saw his batting average dip below .200 for the first time in May. It's been a struggle for the Pirates third baseman this season, who entered Saturday's game with a .198 average and one home run in 2011.

Manager Clint Hurdle suggested an uptick in aggressiveness would force pitchers to become more creative against the No. 2 overall selection in the 2008 Amateur Draft.

"The majority of work on Pedro has been [an] early-away strike, and if he takes it, they go there again," Hurdle said. "Then ... they have all kinds of options. Thirty-four percent of his at-bats have been 0-2 counts, and that's very hard to hit. He knows the numbers. The only way you're going to get them to change is go out there that first time, whack one of those things and hit it to left-center field or over someone's head. Until you do, why would [a pitcher] change?"

Alvarez has still reached base in six straight starts and nine of his last 10, but his on-base percentage remains at .270 for the year.

"One of the comments was that people thought Pedro hitting seventh is not getting pitches to hit," Hurdle said. "Pitchers are absolutely going right after him without hesitation. One of the biggest fallacies, at least in my experience I've heard in the game, is that 'he has no protection around him.'

"There might be a handful of hitters in the game that actually get pitched around. Watching the teams I've been on, we've never talked about pitching around so-and-so. Bonds, yes. Pujols, yes. You might have a series where 'this guy won't beat us.' If he's hitting seventh, it's not going to be that guy."

Alvarez was involved in one of the more memorable defensive plays Friday, when Ryan Braun lined a sharp grounder to third base with runners at second and third in the fourth inning. Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, the baserunner at third, scored on the play to give Milwaukee a 3-2 lead. Alvarez noticed Rickie Weeks off the bag at second and tossed over, initiating a rundown that ended with a rugged collision between Weeks and Ronny Cedeno, which led to both benches emptying.

None of that would have happened at all if Alvarez had tried for the out at home.

"We were playing back, so if a ball's hit to him, it's, 'get an out,'" Hurdle said. "If the ball's scorched to him and it's in your glove and the pitcher's two steps removed from where he was ... his feet were tangled but on that particular play, but you untangle your feet, the pitcher is 65 feet from home.

"Rule of thumb will tell you take the outs early and take the runs off the board late, but that ball was hit so hard. That's why you know through the experience of playing at this level, the speed of the game, a lot of new things can happen from time to time. Whether you handle them right or wrong, the experience is garnered. ... The last place I would anticipate the ball to go in that situation was second. Playing back, you think, 'I'll get the out at first.' On one side, he had some awareness around him. He felt that guy was far enough off to make a play."