First-pitch hits key to Alvarez's success

First-pitch hits key to Alvarez's success

BRADENTON, Fla. -- If there is a lightning rod on the 2012 Pirates, his name without a doubt is Pedro Alvarez. Fans pull for him to validate the promise, but the same fans are quick to pile on every bad at-bat.

Manager Clint Hurdle wants Alvarez to be every bit as quick when he settles into the batter's box. Hit the pitcher before he knows what hit him.

"Being ready to hit from the beginning can be very important for him, and then using the bigger part of the field," said Hurdle.

Hurdle must have seen the 2011 numbers, when Alvarez, between injuries, swooned to a .191 average. They are startling: When Alvarez swung at the first pitch, he hit .417 (10-for-24); furthermore, when he put a ball in play no more than two pitches into the count, he hit .347.

Meaning, when he let pitchers work him into deeper counts, Alvarez hit .119. After pitchers jumped ahead of him 0-2, Alvarez was 5-for-65 (.077) -- out of a total of 235 at-bats.

"[Twenty eight] percent of his at-bats started out 0-2. That's a tough way to make a living for anybody," Hurdle said. "That's not a secret to success. He needs to be ready to hit. He's figured out things on his own. Usually it takes a subpar performance to motivate you to figure it out."

In the early going of Grapefruit League play, Alvarez is 3-for-16, with two of his hits opposite-field homers.