Alvarez Making His Name Known

Alvarez has pitched at three levels in 2010

BINGHAMTON, NY - The name of Manuel Alvarez was likely little known to even the most ardent followers of the Mets farm system. That is changing in 2010 as Alvarez is having the best season of his career. Alvarez recently joined Triple-A Buffalo after starting the year in St. Lucie. Inside Pitch caught up with Alvarez who spoke about what is making the difference this season.

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The 2010 season has been a renaissance of sorts for Manuel Alvarez. After three less than impressive years in the Mets organization, Alvarez has broken out this season and is making a meteoric rise up through the farm system.

Alvarez began his professional career with the Nationals organization in 2006, pitching out of the bullpen for their Gulf Coast League team that season. He showed some promise with a 2.79 earned run average in 14 games, but didn't stick with the club after the season's completion.

The Venezuelan native signed with the Mets in 2007 and pitched for their Venezuelan Summer League team that year, primarily working as a starter. He went 1-4 with a 4.29 ERA in 13 games (11 starts). His experiment as a starter didn't last long, as he went back to the bullpen with Kingsport in 2008.

After a poor season in the Appalachian League, Alvarez pitched for Port St. Lucie in 2009. He pitched a bit better, setting career highs with four wins and nine saves, but had a 5.09 ERA in 46 innings.

Things really began to turn around for Alvarez at the conclusion of last season. Looking to improve his performance, he worked hard during the off-season and played winter ball in his home country.

"I played winter ball last year in Venezuela. I was able to pitch a lot and it helped me get ready to come in this year and pitch well," Alvarez said.

Alvarez was with St. Lucie once again to begin this season. To say his off-season work paid off would be a vast understatement; he's looked like a completely different pitcher so far this year.

In 18 appearances in the Florida State League, he did not allow an earned run over 25.2 innings and surrendered just 12 hits and four walks, adding 24 strikeouts. Refining his slider was a huge factor in his improved results with St. Lucie this season.

"Last year, every time I came in to pitch (in St. Lucie), I just tried to do the best I could. Last year the slider didn't work that well. I came back this year and it was better. The slider was the key while I was there," Alvarez said.

Alvarez' stellar performance earned him a promotion to Double-A on May 20th. He struggled in his first ten appearances for the B-Mets, giving up eight runs (seven earned) during that stretch. It was only a matter of time before Alvarez adapted to the Eastern League, though.

Over his next nine appearances, he didn't allow a single run or issue a walk in 12.1 innings, while striking out 16 hitters. He retired 23 consecutive batters during a stretch that spanned from June 13th to June 24th.

The strike zones of the Eastern League umpires took some time to get used to, according to Alvarez. "The zones from the umpires are a little more closed than they were in St. Lucie," he said. "I just made the adjustments after seeing that."

Throughout his stint with Binghamton, Alvarez had 30 strikeouts against just three walks. For the entire season, Alvarez has 54 strikeouts and only seven free passes. When asked what the key was to keeping the number of walks down, Alvarez replied simply: "Pitch to contact."

During his nine game scoreless streak, Alvarez served as the primary closer for the B-Mets, notching four saves, one of the six out variety. Alvarez didn't alter his approach when he was instilled as the closer.

"I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I just come in and be ready every day, whether they need me to be a closer or a reliever."

The rise of Manuel Alvarez continues, as he was called up to Triple-A on July 1st. He'll look to keep his outstanding season going with the Buffalo Bisons.

Alvarez has made two appearances in Triple-A so far. He tossed three scoreless innings and allowed two hits for the Bisons.

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