Jose Alvarado is the Latest Phillie Getting Things Right in Time for the Playoffs
Just last week, there was a lot of concern about individual Phillies players as the postseason was drawing closer.
Aaron Nola had not inspired much confidence that he can return to form with a stretch of five of seven starts where he couldn’t get through six innings – a clanging alarm in an underwhelming season.
Then, on Wednesday, he went out and pitched a strong game against a potent Braves lineup, allowing just two runs in six innings while striking out eight.
There was Nick Castellanos, who started September by going 3-for-29 (.103) with 11 strike outs and had to be dropped in the batting order – all the way to eighth at a point – and since has re-found his approach at the plate, going 16-for-48 (.333) with six homers while setting a career-high for RBI in a season.
And while Castellanos continued his heroics of late with another homer and four more RBI in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Mets Thursday, trimming their magic number to four, the latest guy to turn the corner was the one who closed the game.
Not Craig Kimbrel. As shaky as he’s been lately he has a 0.00 ERA and is striking out 12.4 batters per nine innings in September. He pitched the eighth inning – and that’ll be important to the story, shortly.
No, we’re talking about Jose Alvarado, who entered in the ninth inning to close the door, and although he did yield a one-out double to Brandon Nimmo, he buckled up the big boy pants and went mano a mano with Pete Alonso with two outs and did this:
Jose Alvarado slams the door to secure a @Phillies win!
FINAL: NYM 4, PHI 5 pic.twitter.com/SJFJtCXynW
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 22, 2023
After the game, Rob Thomson was asked why he went to Kimbrel in the eighth and he said that you want to have a righty to face Francisco Lindor (who had two hits) and Mark Vientos (who hit a homer off starter Ranger Suarez).
So if you’re playing the matchup game, which Thomson often does with his bullpen, then the ninth inning was one that suggested he do something different.
But, in that moment, Thomson chose to eschew the data and trust his pitcher.
Let’s break it down –
With Nimmo just 180 feet away as the tying run and Alonso striding to the plate and a base open, there was a lot of thought up in the press box of walking Alonso and having Alvarado instead pitch to the switch-hitting Lindor.
After all, Alonso has an .868 OPS against lefties this season, including 12 homers in just 139 ABs against them.
Now, Lindor is better against lefties than righties, and his numbers against lefties are almost identical to Alonso’s .866 OPS and 13HR in 171 ABs vs. lefties.
However, despite having fewer hits than Lindor, Alonso gets on base more, which meant he’s more likely to work a walk, and force Alvarado to throw more high stress pitches.
While conventional wisdom tells you never to put the winning run on base, in this instance, with Alonso not being the fastest runner, Lindor would likely have had to hit a triple or homer to score him from first, so it wasn’t as risky a concept.
Rob Thomson went out to the mound and asked Alvarado who he wanted to face.
Short thread: Talked to Jose Alvarado. Asked him about facing Pete Alonso in the 9th:
“Right now, my stuff is good. I just want to compete. Thomson came out and asked if I want to face Alonso or Lindor. I said I want Alonso.”
I asked, “You wanted power vs power?”
He said, “Yep.”
— Anthony SanFilippo (@AntSanPhilly) September 22, 2023
“I wanted to make sure they had a plan against him,” Thomson said about his mound visit with Alvarado. “(That he’s) not afraid to walk him.”
But walking him was never in Alvarado’s mind.
“You know, man… right now all of my pitches are consistent in the strike zone and you know me, I’m gonna throw hard,” he said. “Let’s go. Let’s compete. …My plan is attack the hitter. That’s it.”
Alvarado had a rough outing in Milwaukee on Sept. 1st when he allowed two hits and two walks for four runs (although only one was earned), in a third of an inning. Since then, though, he has been slowly improving.
In eight appearances since, he’s allowed just two earned runs and six hits. His walks have been a little higher, with five in those eight games, but in his last two outings – against the Braves and Mets – he’s allowed just one hit and no runs while striking out four and walking nobody.
“Like I said, my stuff is really good right now,” he said. “Yes, I’m very happy to feel like that. Especially now. Every game now is important. The playoffs are coming. They’re close and I can’t wait to see those moments again.”
He indicated that he feels like his stuff is as good as it was at the beginning of the season, when he was virtually untouchable.
Before going on the injured list for the first time in May, Alvarado pitched in 14 games and allowed just nine hits while striking out 24 batters and walking zero.
It’s been a bit of a grind to get back to being that guy again.
He returned from that injured list stint on June 9, and from then through that outing in Milwaukee on Sept. 1, Alvarado went back on the I.L. and threw just 16 innings. He kept his hits down, allowing 15, but he had 13 walks. He was struggling to find the strike zone, and it was costing him effectiveness.
Since then, he’s been rounding back into form. His fastball has always been electric. usually topping out at around 101 MPH. But his cutter can be lethal too. It can be concerning to throw a cutter when you have elbow issues, but Alvarado is finding comfort in throwing it again. In fact, it was the cutter he threw to strike out Alonso after throwing him three straight heaters, one for a ball, one for a swinging strike, and one for a strike looking.
His confidence is back. He’s back to being the guy who coined the ” strike one, strike two, good luck” phrase that still is emblazoned on some t-shirts in the Phillies clubhouse.
José Alvarado in his post-game interview with Franzke and LA:
“Like I say last year – Strike 1, Strike 2, and good luck” pic.twitter.com/d061o5MwnK
— Nick Piccone (@_piccone) September 22, 2023
And when you can mix and match him and Kimbrel with confidence at the back end of ballgames, the games should be that much shorter for the Phillies.
First Nola. Then Castellanos. Now Alvarado.
The guys the Phillies need to get right for October are starting to show signs that they can get there. And, boy, what a difference that can make when the postseason rolls around in about 10 days.