Marlins righty Henderson Alvarez focused on preparation, not hits

Henderson Alvarez pitched 3 2/3 innings against the Braves on Wednesday afternoon.

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JUPITER, Fla. — Believe it or not, Marlins right-hander Henderson Alvarez felt relieved to give up a hit against the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday at Roger Dean Stadium.

When B.J. Upton singled to left with one out in the first, it snapped a streak of 12 1/3 hitless innings dating back to his no-hitter in the final game of 2013.

"It happens," Alvarez said. "I knew it was going to happen. Now I’m just happy I can continue to work. I wasn’t focused on not allowing another hit. I was just more worried about getting my work in and continuing to prepare for Opening Day."

Upton didn’t stay on first for long as Alvarez picked him off with a quick move. Justin Upton grounded out to third to end the frame.

Alvarez scattered five hits and one run — a solo home run by Evan Gattis on a sinker in the fourth — over 3 2/3 innings of work. He struck out one batter and walked none.

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In the second, the 23-year-old induced a trio of groundouts in between a double by Ernesto Mejia. Following a one-out single by Ramiro Pena in the third, Alvarez got Jordan Schafer to ground out to first and Upton to strike out swinging.

"I think he — probably unlike anyone we have — can pitch successfully at 89 (mph) and then 96 when he wants to," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "That’s the beauty of Henderson Alvarez is he can be crafty when he wants to and when he really wants to turn it on he can turn it on.

"I think today he looked good, he looked sharp, he threw some nice breaking balls and got out of jams that he got in. I think he looked fine. He got his pitches in, which is ultimately what we’re looking for."

Of his 54 pitches, 39 went for strikes. Thirteen of the 15 batters he faced fell behind in the count with first-pitch strikes.

"I try to throw strikes at the beginning, try to let the batter swing, try to get through the inning quick," Alvarez said.

Gattis’ home run came with one out in the fourth. Following Mejia’s two-out double, righty Carlos Marmol entered in relief as Alvarez reached his pitch limit.

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A year ago, Alvarez battled through right shoulder inflammation and wound up on the disabled list. He didn’t make his Marlins debut until July 4. His first start of this spring got pushed back when he sustained an infection in his right shin.

"Last spring I had issues with my shoulder and this year with the work I did in Venezuela thanks to the team I was able to work on some things," said Alvarez, who played winter ball. "I feel healthier now than last spring."

Projected as the rotation’s third starter, the organization would like to see how Alvarez does over a full season. Acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the November 2012 blockbuster trade, he has a 15-23 record and 4.25 ERA in 353 2/3 innings over parts of three seasons in the majors.

Whether health or confidence, Redmond sees a player ready to take off. In 17 starts for the Marlins, he went 5-6 with a 3.59 ERA and surrendered just two home runs. Over two spring outings, he has looked particularly sharp, giving up just one run over 6 2/3 innings.

"Last spring he just never really got going," Redmond said. "He got hurt right away and he never really got out of the gates. Last year at the end of the year the way the season ended for him was big confidence-wise finishing the season the way he did especially the way it started off.

"I think it has carried over. You see a confident guy and hopefully that’s going to translate into a lot of success and wins for us. It’s a big year for him to go out there and try to get 200 innings. That’s what we’re looking for, and if he can do that that could be a win-win not only for him but us too."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.