Phillies’ Alvarez beginning comeback versus A’s (Sep 17, 2017)

PHILADELPHIA — As the end of interleague play for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Oakland Athletics looms, Sunday’s rubber match holds little to no meaning for either team in the standings.

Both teams have cemented losing records this season with 15 games left to play, but both teams have seen young players take over everyday roles with success late in the season.

But Sunday’s contest means a ton to Philadelphia right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who becomes the 31st pitcher to take the mound for the Phillies this season.

Alvarez will make his Philadelphia debut against Oakland and the Phillies will see what they have in the former All-Star as they continue to shift the focus of their lens to 2018 and beyond.

Alvarez is attempting a comeback after two shoulder surgeries derailed his career. The former Toronto and Miami pitcher went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA in his 2014 All-Star season for the Marlins but was hurt in 2015 and is just returning to the majors.

He signed with the independent Long Island Ducks in July and went 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA in seven starts.

Alvarez then signed a minor league deal with the Phillies on Aug. 22. He went 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in three regular-season starts for the Phillies’ Triple-A Lehigh Valley affiliate and later gave up six runs in 6 2/3 innings in a playoff start Sept. 9.

He hasn’t pitched since the playoff outing and his contract was purchased by Philadelphia on Wednesday.

“All I want to do is take advantage of this opportunity that they gave me and show them, everyone actually, that I’m ready to do this again,” Alvarez told reporters.

Alvarez will have his work cut out for him Sunday after the Phillies’ bullpen sent six relievers to the mound Saturday night in their 5-3 win following a lengthy rain delay.

The bullpen has been a massive reason for the Phillies’ recent run of competitive play and their climb out of Major League Baseball’s cellar with two weeks to play.

“I think the fact that Adam Morgan has improved immensely and that Hoby Milner has really established himself as a pretty good situational type lefty, and he gets righties out for the most part … Garcia, huge step forward, has been outstanding,” Philadelphia manager Pete Mackanin said. “Ramos has been pitching well. … They’re all contributing and they’re all pitching well and that’s the reason we’re improving because the pitchers are making good pitches.”

Since Aug. 27, the Phillies’ bullpen has conceded only 16 earned runs over 70 innings.

Meanwhile, Oakland’s Matt Olson has been on a tear at first base since he took over, mashing 20 home runs in 52 games played. He took Phillies starter Ben Lively deep Saturday night and continues to prove to A’s manager Bob Melvin that he belongs.

“He’s swinging the bat great and he’s really running with it since he’s gotten the opportunity to play every day,” Melvin said.

Perhaps the only hotter rookie power hitter in baseball is Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins. When a two-game home run drought is enough to make the news, you’re doing something right. Hoskins has broken a handful of records since his call-up to the big leagues, and 18 home runs in 32 games is quite difficult to comprehend.

Melvin and the Athletics will send lefty Sean Manaea (10-10, 4.65 ERA) to counter Alvarez on Sunday. Manaea struggled in his last start against Boston when he surrendered seven runs and was unable to make is out of the fourth inning. The lefty will be tasked with eating innings.

Oakland leads the all-time series 9-8.