Alvarez has persevered on long road to big leagues

'Every time they give me a chance, I'm going to enjoy it and have fun,' Rangers reliever says

Alvarez has persevered on long road to big leagues

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers optioned pitcher Dario Alvarez to Triple-A Round Rock on Sunday, only to recall him on Monday when Jose Leclerc went on the disabled list.

Such is the tenuous existence of a Major League reliever, and Alvarez may understand that better than anybody, given the tortuous route taken just to get here.

Having a powerful left arm and a wicked slider helps, but that still didn't keep him from having to spend three years in the Dominican Summer League, two years in Panama and one year in Venezuela before he ever was given a chance to pitch in Minor Leagues.

In 2010, he spent three months trying out in Japan.

"I made the team but they wanted me to pitch for an independent team," Alvarez said. "I didn't want to do that, so I went back."

He preferred Panama, which has a famous canal but otherwise means playing in relative obscurity.

"I pitched every three days," Alvarez said. "Ever try to pitch three days? Doesn't matter what level, pitching every three days is not easy."

Nothing has ever been easy for Alvarez, who grew up in Santiago, Dominican Republic and was raised by his mom Andrea Mercedes Espinal in the working-class neighborhood of Pequin. There were four brothers and one sister, and Andrea kept it all together while working as a school teacher.

"She gave us everything we needed growing up," Alvarez said. "It was OK, I was able to grow up and play baseball. Every day we would go play baseball in the sandlots."

He signed with the Phillies on Jan. 8, 2007, at age 17 and sent to the Dominican Summer League. A season in the DSL is standard procedure for a young Latin player. Three seasons is not. The Phillies never brought him to the United States.

"I remember my last start with them," Alvarez said. "I pitched eight innings against Oakland. I won the game. After that game, they told me there was no room for you here so we are going to let you go."

He tried Japan, but instead he signed with the Industrials de Herrera, one of four teams in the Panama Professional Baseball League. He spent two seasons there, often pitching every third day.

"The Dodgers and the Reds wanted to sign me," Alvarez said. "They wanted me to play in the Dominican and I said no. ... I want to play in USA. Three years in the Dominican was enough. I knew with my velocity and my pitches, I had a chance to pitch in America. I never gave up. My mom and my wife [Natividad], they helped me a lot to stick with baseball."

He spent '12 in Venezuela, signed with the Mets to play at Brooklyn in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League in '13 and moved up to Class A Savannah in the South Atlantic League in '14. He made six starts and 14 relief appearances for the Sand Gnats, striking out 95 and walking 14 in 61 innings.

At that point, somebody figured out Alvarez could pitch. After short stints at Class A Port St. Luice and Double-A Binghamton, Alvarez was in the big leagues with the Mets at the end of the '14 season.

He has yet to establish himself and play a full year in the Majors. Controlling his overpowering stuff is the issue. The Braves claimed him off waivers on May 25, 2016, and traded him to the Rangers two months later.

He made the Rangers out of Spring Training, but he is a reliever with options so it is a tenuous situation.

"I want to stay here," Alvarez said. "I like it here. But if the team is going to make a move and I'm the one they pick to send down, I'll accept it, no problem. But every time they give me a chance, I am going to enjoy it and have fun."

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.