Worth the wait: Alvarez shows promise in start

Out of action since 2015, right-hander impresses, eyes rotation spot

Worth the wait: Alvarez shows promise in start

PHILADELPHIA -- Right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who took a giant step forward on his comeback trail with a start against the Athletics on Sunday, was walking through the home clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park after the game. Catcher Cameron Rupp passed him. Their eyes locked.

Rupp walked toward the pitcher, patted him on the back and nodded. He didn't say a word. He didn't have to. Oakland won, 6-3, and Alvarez took the loss. But the list of candidates for the Phillies' 2018 starting rotation had just increased by one.

"I liked Alvarez," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I liked the movement on his pitches. From what I've seen, he's got a lot of confidence. He made a couple mistakes but, in general, he looked pretty good."

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It had been two years and two shoulder surgeries since the 27-year-old pitched in the big leagues. He was more impressive than his final line -- four runs allowed on four hits and two walks in five-plus innings -- might indicate. He had allowed just two baserunners before Chad Pinder and Matt Olson homered to lead off the fourth. The other two runs he was charged with scored after he was taken out of the game. He threw 85 pitches, 55 for strikes.

Wearing his socks high, Alvarez seemed to bask in his return to a big league mound after his long absence. Preparing for his first pitch, he took a long step toward the plate then drew his arms back and over his head before making the delivery. He threw a changeup to Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman in the second inning that was clocked at 53 miles per hour by the scoreboard radar, but his fastball sat comfortably around 92 most of the day.

He even showed that he could handle the bat. After Rupp led off the bottom of the second with a double, Alvarez deftly moved him to third with a grounder to the right side.

"I felt good," Alvarez said through interpreter Diego Ettedgui. "I was a little nervous. I have to admit it."

The Phillies can probably pencil Aaron Nola into their rotation going into next season. Beyond that, there's a long line of young arms who could be vying for spots. Jerad Eickhoff. Vince Velasquez. Jake Thompson. Nick Pivetta. Ben Lively. Mark Leiter. Zach Eflin. All have started for the Phillies this year. There will be competition.

"I'm working hard to give them a reason to at least think about me," said Alvarez, who pitched a no-hitter for the Marlins in 2013 and made the National League All-Star team the following year. "I can't control that, but I'm going to control what I can to be part of that.

"A lot of people didn't believe in me. A lot of people thought my career was over. So it's great to be here. I'm very thankful to the Phillies for giving me the opportunity to show I can still pitch after my two surgeries. And I want to keep showing to everyone that I'm ready to go."

Alvarez is projected to get two more starts before the season ends. He hopes to make the most of them.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com and covered the Phillies on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.