Alvarez still has learning curve at first base

Pirates infielder has had some trouble with the nuances of new position

Alvarez still has learning curve at first base

SAN DIEGO -- The transition of Pedro Alvarez from third base to first base is still a work in progress, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Friday night, hours before his club played the Padres in the second game of a four-game set at Petco Park.

"I really think he still needs those game-speed repetitions," Hurdle said. "It's getting to that point. … We've got something else in mind that we'll talk about internally. It may be some different nuances where the positioning can help."

At question is Alvarez's tendency to immediately roam reacting to ground balls hit to his right, rather than allowing the second baseman to make those plays so he can comfortably cover first base to take a throw.

The case in point was what happened in the bottom of the fifth in Thursday night's 11-5 win on a two-error Pittsburgh play that led to San Diego's first two runs.

With a runner on first, Yangervis Solarte bounced a grounder to Neil Walker at second. Though Alvarez instinctively ranged to his right, he had no chance to make the play. Walker checked Abraham Almonte heading toward second and when he saw he had no chance there, went back to first where Alvarez had just retreated to the bag.

Walker threw the ball away and insanity ensued. Catcher Francisco Cervelli, backing up the play at first, tossed wildly to second, allowing Almonte to score. Justin Upton singled home Solarte.

Though Alvarez wasn't charged with either of the physical errors, Hurdle certainly thought he made a mental one. Moving forward, Alvarez is going to have to be more aware of his movements.

"This is something he's just got to work through," Hurdle said. "He's got to put a foot down and say to himself, 'This is as far as I'm going to go and I'm not going any farther.' The hard part about it is that often he's going after balls that our second baseman is already standing in front of.

"I can understand the challenge getting in that three-four hole vs. playing straight up first base. If you're playing straight up first base [Solarte's] ball is so far away from you that you might not even venture to take a step. But in our defensive alignment, he's playing where he's supposed to be playing."

Hurdle has often said this season that Alvarez has worked tirelessly adapting to the new position after playing exclusively for four seasons at third base. Now in his fifth season, Alvarez has made 542 of his 587 starts at third base. But this season, he's made 40 starts at first with only five errors while not playing even a fraction of an inning at third.

Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang have anchored third with Harrison getting the lion's share of the games, though Kang was in the starting lineup at third on Friday night. Alvarez at first continues to be a project.

"We'll just have to have a few more conversations about the positioning," Hurdle said, " or the best thing that could happen is he finds his way to not vacate."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.