Alvarez thrust into bigger role in bullpen

Angels lefty to take key role in early stages of season

Alvarez thrust into bigger role in bullpen

ANAHEIM -- The Angels acquired Jose Alvarez hoping he could serve as Triple-A starting pitching depth or, perhaps, if everything went right, an effective swingman in their Major League bullpen. They didn't give much thought to him potentially holding leads as one of their key relievers, but that's precisely the 26-year-old left-hander's role in the early stages of the 2016 season.

Mike Scioscia was asked Thursday if Alvarez is part of the "holding leads" section of his bullpen, and before the question was even completed, the Angels manager, hardly ever definitive, answered sternly: "Yes."

Asked why, Scioscia scoffed: "You want to answer that yourself?"

To Scioscia, it's pretty self-explanatory.

Alvarez, acquired from the Tigers for utility infielder Andrew Romine as Spring Training was winding down in 2014, emerged as a critical component to the Angels' bullpen down the stretch last year. He finished with a 3.49 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and a 2.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64 appearances, and he held opposing left-handed hitters to a .575 OPS (146 points below the Major League average).

On Tuesday, an eventual 6-1 loss to the Cubs, Alvarez checked in with one out in the seventh and struck out two of the game's most prominent hitters, lefty Jason Heyward and righty Kris Bryant In Thursday's 4-3 win over the Rangers, with the tying run on third and none out in the seventh, he got the left-handed-hitting Rougned Odor to pop out in foul territory.

"He's got the ability not only to come in and be effective against left-handed hitters, but also right-handed hitters," Scioscia said. "When he makes pitches, he's as good as anybody that we have down there. He's certainly a guy that you want to keep in that mix to hold leads as much as you can. He's going to be important for us."

Alvarez was limited to 31 2/3 Minor League innings in 2014 because of midseason surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow. He had been a starter his entire life, working mostly with a low-90s fastball, curveball and changeup. But the Angels tried him out as a reliever the ensuing Spring Training and Alvarez adapted quickly.

His starting days are pretty much over now.

"It's hard, because it's a tremendous opportunity to be up here in the big leagues," Alvarez said. "Whatever opportunity they give me, I'm going to grab it. If they give me the opportunity to start games, I'm going to give that 100 percent, too."

Worth noting

Geovany Soto made his first start behind the plate Thursday, after Carlos Perez started the first two games. Scioscia isn't ready to name a starting catcher, saying: "We don't know where we're going to be after 162 games, what the breakup might be, as far as the splits and who starts more than the other. But we're going to need both guys. They're going to be used."

• The Angels' international bonus pool for the 2016-17 signing period will be $2,217,300, which ranks 20th out of 30 teams. The Angels will go one more year restricted from signing any one player for more than $300,000, a product of their $8 million investment in Cuban shortstop Roberto Baldoquin. Their pool for the 2016 MLB Draft is $6,120,500, which ranks 22nd in the industry.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.