By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – It is hard to imagine how Jose Alvarez’s major league debut could have been any better.
Called up from Toledo to start for the Detroit Tigers Sunday in place of Anibal Sanchez, who was suffering from shoulder stiffness, Alvarez gave up just one run on three hits through six innings. He also recorded seven strikeouts on the way to a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Of course, it is just one game. Plus, as Tigers manager Jim Leyland pointed out, circumstances were ideal for a solid performance if Alvarez did his part.
“I don’t want to put any damper on his outing, but they had never seen him before,” Leyland cautioned. “We caught them struggling a little bit. That’s part of the equation, and he was terrific, and that’s also part of the equation, so when you put all those combinations together, it was an opportunity, maybe, to be successful.”
Alvarez knew ahead of time that his big-league moment was fleeting, that regardless of how he pitched he would be headed back to the minors the next day, but he took advantage of the time he got.
Veteran Detroit catcher Alex Avila gave Alvarez a rundown of the game plan against the Indians hitters, and Alvarez followed Avila’s lead.
“He relied on me,” Avila said. “He felt comfortable that I know these guys pretty well. The thing is, though, he made all the pitches. He really just kind of attacked the zone and kept them off balance, changed speeds real well.”
Even at 24, Alvarez has seven years of pro experience. He started his career in the Boston Red Sox system at age 17 and rose to the high-A team in 2009. He spent the next three years in the Miami Marlins organization, where he worked up to double-A ball and pitched 136.1 innings in 2012.
In 12 starts in Toledo this year, Alvarez’s ERA is 2.42. After Sunday’s stellar performance, his major league ERA is 1.50.
The Tigers already have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, so it is unlikely Alvarez will get much more time with the Tigers in the near future, but Leyland is still happy to know Alvarez is around.
“The only thing you do when you start getting crazy after a game like this is put extra pressure on the kid, and I don’t want to do that,” Leyland said. “The kid pitched a wonderful game, he made a very good impression, we believe that we know that we have something down there that you would feel comfortable if you had to spot-start somebody.”
Though Leyland pointed out Alvarez had an advantage because the Indians hitters had not seen them, the Tigers’ Torii Hunter was optimistic about Alvarez because he did so well despite having no big league experience.
“This guy, it seemed like he knows what he’s doing, seemed like he’s seasoned already,” Hunter said. “Man, what’s going to happen when he learns a little about this league? He didn’t know none of those guys over there. He just watched a little video today, but the more he goes out there, the better he’s going to get, and that’s scary.”