Orioles' Pedro Alvarez making 'fresh and new' adjustment to being a full-time DH

Orioles designated hitter Pedro Alvarez (24) drives the ball into the outfield for a walk-off sacrifice fly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles clawed their way to edge the Yankees, 1-0, in 10 innings on May 5, 2016.
Orioles designated hitter Pedro Alvarez (24) drives the ball into the outfield for a walk-off sacrifice fly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles clawed their way to edge the Yankees, 1-0, in 10 innings on May 5, 2016. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

MINNEAPOLIS — Pedro Alvarez isn't used to having this much time to think about hitting. It's all a part of his journey through unfamiliarity, playing in the American League for the first time and adapting to full-time designated hitter duty with the Orioles.

But inside a hitter's mind can be a dangerous place. A lot can be lost. That's how slumps start, and how they can spiral.


"Coming to the American League and DHing for the most part, this has been the first time I've had to do something like that," Alvarez said. "I think that's why it makes the transition not as smooth as you want it to be, because I really don't have anything to relate it to. From all different angles it's all coming in fresh and new. There's really nothing that's really a familiar feeling to it."

In his first six big league seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Alvarez had the added responsibility of playing defense — first at third base, then last year at first base — something that could take his mind out of the batter's box for a while. He doesn't have that with the Orioles. All 19 of his starts this season have been at DH against right-handed pitching.


"When all you're doing is hitting, you're not playing defense, it's easy to think about it, or dwell on an at-bat for two innings and that's the good thing about not DHing," Alvarez said. "When you go out for defense, you don't have time to think about that stuff. That can either be a good thing or a bad thing when you're DHing.

"Just as easy as you can build from a good at-bat or a good feeling, you can go into a downward spiral if you're thinking about bad things. So I'm trying to find that happy medium and try to find that even keel and do enough things that it can distract you from the last at-bat but it can also do enough where it prepares to for your next at-bat."

What Alvarez is searching for now is a routine he's comfortable with. How often should he hit before a game? When should he disappear into the indoor batting cages to take some swings between at-bats? Because his performance is judged by what he does at the plate, how does he take the positives from each at-bat while not looking too deeply into what's missing?

So the veteran hitter now finds himself searching for guidance. He has asked Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who owns the major league mark for most home runs by a DH, for advice. He has talked to teammate Chris Davis, who made 22 starts at DH last year and a career-high 60 in 2012.

"Just anybody who's experienced the situation," Alvarez said. "I've talked to CD a little bit. Literally anybody I can talk to. You never know what's going to stick. It may be all relaying the same message. One might explain it a certain way that makes sense to me, but one thing I have learned is that all those guys, it took them some time to kind of come up with their routine about how to DH, how to go about things. That's essentially what they've told me, is that you essentially have to find out what works for you. That takes time."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter has taken notice of Alvarez trying to find a routine he likes.

"Obviously, he's very bright and very smart, but I've known a lot of guys who are very smart who aren't smart baseball players," Showalter said. "He is. He and [Mark Trumbo], that's where they've been really impressive in where they've been cerebrally to the game. They think it through, but don't get paralyzed by it. He knows he's still got to take the at-bats. He sits around and sometimes doesn't hit until the second or third inning. And I watch him between at-bats. He's got a pretty good routine right now."

Despite opening the season hitless in his first 12 at-bats, Alvarez is showing signs of finding his comfort zone. Over his 10 games before Tuesday, Alvarez hit .346/.400/.731, raising his season batting average 98 points (from .108 to .206) in the process. Alvarez also had RBIs in three of his four games entering Tuesday.

"Here's a guy who is coming to a new league, new pitchers , new ballpark, new consistent role," Showalter said. "There's a lot of new things going on with him. I know talking to [bench coach John Russell] and [hitting coach] Scott Coolbaugh, that we had to be patient because his track record is pretty good and just try to trust him and have some empathy for some of the new things that was being thrown at him. But sometimes when certain guys cool off, other guys get it going. But he's had some pretty consistent good at-bats for a while now."

The highlight of Alvarez's first five weeks as an Oriole might have come Sunday afternoon, when he launched his second homer of the season in the team's 11-3 win over the Oakland Athletics — a game-tying solo blast that landed on Eutaw Street and hit the B&O Warehouse on one bounce.

The team estimated Alvarez's homer, the first Orioles home run to land on Eutaw Street this season, at 434 feet. According to MLB Statcast, the exit velocity of the blast was 108.28 mph, the second-hardest ball Alvarez has hit this season.

One thing that might go unnoticed is that Alvarez is drawing more walks than he previously had in his career. It's a small sample size, but he drew one walk every 6.8 plate appearances in his first 22 games this season, which is considerably better than his one walk every 10.7 plate appearances entering 2016. Always a high-strikeout hitter, he's also striking out less — once every five plate appearances going into the Minnesota Twins series compared to once every 3.4 entering the season.


Given the fact that the Orioles were tied for the AL lead with 43 homers in 30 games heading into Tuesday's game in Minnesota, if Alvarez's bat continues to progress as the weather warms up, it's a good sign for the club.

"It's been a month. In the grand scheme of things, that's not that much time," Alvarez said. "I think I'm coming into my own self, my own routine and just it's been April, it's been cold. It's going to change now. When June comes around, the weather is different. It's warmer. I might be doing something different than what I was doing in April. I can only tell you when that time comes, because I'm not exactly sure. I think I'm starting to have a better approach to this whole situation."


Recommended on Baltimore Sun