3B Alvarez will remain with Pirates after camp

Pedro Alvarez will remain the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting third

baseman, despite a deep batting slump that began last season and

has carried over into spring training.

In Grapefruit League play, Alvarez is hitting .133 and has

struck out in 13 of 30 at-bats.

However, two of his four hits were home runs, and general

manager Neal Huntington cast aside the notion that Alvarez might

not break camp with the Pirates.

”The rumors of him starting at Triple-A have never come from

the Pirates,” Huntington said. ”It’s been outside speculation.

It’s not what we’ve thought (of doing). We asked him to do some

things coming into spring training and he’s done those. He’s going

through a tough stretch right now.

”Are we going to be able to get him out of it? We believe we

will.”

Last season, Alvarez hit .191 with four homers and was limited

to 74 games due to a quadriceps injury. He has missed the past

three spring training games with what the team has called ”minor

irritation” in his left knee, but he is expected to be back in

action this week.

Although the Pirates urged him to play winter ball this past

offseason, Alvarez instead worked out on his own with a trainer in

California.

”I have a little more flexibility in my swing,” he said, ”and

I’m able to stay through some balls and let the ball get

deep.”

Alvarez also added a toe tap to his swing as a timing mechanism,

and has admitted it’s taken a while to feel comfortable with the

new mechanics.

”He uses it to gather himself, get himself in a position where

he feels athletic,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. ”When

that front foot hits the ground, he needs to be in a good

foundation, with his hands in a strong position, to get to the ball

and stay through it.”

Alvarez was drafted second overall in 2008 and received a

four-year, $6.355 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus.

He made his big league debut in 2010 and hit .256 with 16 home runs

in 74 games.

Huntington indicated Alvarez would benefit more from remaining

in the majors as an everyday player than by going back to

Triple-A.

”There are times when guys are able to get away with flaws at

Triple-A that they can’t get away with at the major league level,”

Huntington said. ”He may be one of those guys. There are guys who

are tremendous Triple-A performers and they need to learn and

adjust at the major league level. We can’t put too much stock in

Triple-A performance, good or bad, or spring training performance,

good or bad.”

A left-handed batter, Alvarez has a career .211 batting average

against lefty pitchers. The Pirates are slated to face several

tough southpaws in the first two weeks of the season, which could

put Alvarez on the bench.

”While I don’t anticipate a platoon setting,” Huntington said,

”we may protect some of our young left-handed hitters against the

likes of (Los Angeles’ Clayton) Kershaw, (Philadelphia’s Cliff) Lee

and (San Francisco’s Madison) Bumgarner.”

The Pirates, who opened up 4-2 and 9-7 last season, are hoping

for a strong start this time around, as well, though the schedule

is not kind. In the season’s first three weeks, the Pirates play

the last two World Series champions – San Francisco and St. Louis –

and they open the season with three games at home vs. the

Phillies.