Despite slow spring, Alvarez likely ticketed for cleanup

Despite slow spring, Alvarez likely ticketed for cleanup

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pedro Alvarez is not a March hitter. If he had to earn a job in Spring Training, he wouldn't have one. That's just the way it is with some players, especially those with some tenure who are comfortable with preparing for the season while oblivious to preseason stats.

Also while looking at the big picture, the Pirates are likewise getting comfortable with the idea Alvarez could fulfill one of the team's biggest hopes for 2013 -- that he can grow into the everyday cleanup hitter.

Alvarez is batting .161, characteristic of his spring. What is not typical of him are the six strikeouts in 31 at-bats, a true indication of the solid contact he has been making.

"For me," manager Clint Hurdle said, "it started in Kissimmee [Friday, against the Astros]. He had three good at-bats, and even the one time he struck out against a left-hander, he was on every pitch, with good timing. He's taking good, aggressive swings."

Hurdle will always tinker with his lineup, moving around even regulars depending on the sort of pitcher the team faces and the type of offensive approach is needed. He often cites how successful Tony La Russa was with his forever fluid Cardinals lineups.

The one player Hurdle would like to plant and leave alone, though, is Alvarez in the four-hole.

"We'll be best served when he puts his foot down and takes ownership of that spot," Hurdle said. "You'd like to find a guy you can put in there and leave alone, and Pedro is definitely one we're considering.

"I definitely think he's got much more confidence now than going into last season, and we can anticipate him building upon the productive way he got through some great challenges he faced last year."

Hurdle referenced what had to be the most impressive aspect of Alvarez's 2012: In mid-June -- interestingly, at the end of a failed month-long trial at cleanup -- he was batting .189, with eight homers and 25 RBIs; from that point on to the end of the season, he was a .274-hitter, with 22 homers and 60 RBIs.

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.