Alvarez continues to display tremendous power

Alvarez continues to display tremendous power

Alvarez continues to display tremendous power

Pedro Alvarez has a habit of launching breathtaking home runs during batting practice, and his teammates continue to marvel at the power display even though it takes place just about every day. The Pirates' All-Star third baseman can hit the ball over the fence with ease in any direction and his blasts are often tape-measure shots that can leave those around the cage shaking their heads.

"Pedro can hit home runs like crazy in BP," Pittsburgh's center fielder and fellow All-Star Andrew McCutchen said. "He hits them out everywhere, wherever you want him to hit them. I joke around with him sometimes and tell him, 'Hit it out to left field. Hit it out to center field. Hit it out to right field.' And he'll do it. That's neat to see. You don't get the opportunity to see a lot of people hit balls the way he does, or as far as he does."

And Pedro's final round each day is truly something to behold.

"That's when we unleash the monster," said Herbie Andrade, the Pirates' bullpen catcher and the person who throws batting practice regularly to the group that includes McCutchen and Alvarez.

Fortunately for the Pirates, the left-handed-hitting Alvarez doesn't go deep only in batting practice. In fact, he's emerging as one of the premier power hitters in the National League. After homering 30 times and driving in 85 runs last season, the 6-foot-3 235-pounder smacked 26 round-trippers in his first 93 games this year, and was tied with Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez for the league lead in that category.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle believes Alvarez is getting to his power more often these days because of added experience and confidence, more so than any mechanical or fundamental adjustments that have been made. And Alvarez agrees.

"When you go out there every day, you get a better idea what the guy on the mound wants to do to you in different situations," the 26-year-old slugger said. "What he's trying to do at certain times -- early in the game, late in the game, with runners in scoring position -- those are things that maybe in the past I would have to thoroughly think about. Now it's more second nature. It comes to me a little easier. It's more like a reflex. That's the biggest thing experience allows. You know the game better and things are easier."

Hall of Famers Willie Stargell and Ralph Kiner are the only Pirates who have ever had at least as many homers at the All-Star break as the 24 Alvarez had this year. And if he finishes as the league leader in 2013, he will become the first Pittsburgh player to accomplish the feat since Stargell did it 40 years ago -- with 44 in 1973.

Alvarez finds being in such company mind-boggling.

"To be mentioned in the same breath as those guys, to me, is an unbelievable privilege and an honor," he said. "When you go through our tunnel [from the clubhouse to the dugout at PNC Park] you see their names on the wall. If I can be a tenth of the player those two guys were I think I'd be OK."

Now in his fourth season in the big leagues, Alvarez does have a long way to go to approach Stargell and Kiner -- who are first and second on the team's all-time home run list with 475 and 301, respectively. But what's more important right now is that he's overcome periods of struggle and developed into a high-impact run producer.

"Big sluggers are going to strike out a lot, but I've never seen Pedro quit on himself," said Steve Blass, the former Pirates pitcher and long-time color analyst. "He keeps about as steady a keel as I can possibly imagine, and I love that quality in him. He's embraced the fact that if you believe in something, it will pay dividends and be the right thing for you.

"If you don't believe and you go out searching and experimenting, you may never come back to the qualities that got you here. You may be out there dangling, because sometimes you can't find the road back to what your strengths are. He has an absolute belief in approaching his job a certain way, and we're seeing the fruits of that this year."

Alvarez, a former Vanderbilt University star, has drawn tons of attention from Pirates fans and the media since Pittsburgh made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 Draft. And this year, things like being among the league leaders in homers, making the NL All-Star team for the first time, and being selected to participate in the Home Run Derby have nudged him more into the national spotlight.

Even though he's not completely comfortable with all the attention he receives, he does accept that it comes with the territory.

"I'm a private guy in an industry where it's not so private," Alvarez said. "Even as a kid, I liked to grab a book and read or work on puzzles by myself. So I'm a self-reflector if you want to call it that. I do a lot of thinking and it keeps me at peace.

"Things can be so hectic in baseball -- everything from traveling to media to rain delays or whatever it is. There are so many things thrown at you, sometimes you just need that 10 minutes in front of your locker all by yourself. So I do appreciate my privacy and I think the people in Pittsburgh know that already. The people here have been great. There are special fans here, for sure."

Those fans also know a bona fide home run hitter when they see one, and these days Alvarez fits the description perfectly.