SURPRISE, Ariz. — Henderson Alvarez is inching closer to becoming a factor in the A’s pitching plans.
The right-hander, signed as a free agent in the offseason after undergoing shoulder surgery, threw all of his pitches off the mound Saturday for the first time this spring. He’s scheduled to face hitters shortly after the A’s head north to the Bay Area on Wednesday, and it stands to reason a minor league rehab assignment could follow after a couple of those sessions.
The A’s are targeting mid-May as a potential return date for Alvarez, though manager Bob Melvin cautioned that that’s on the early side. It could be more like early June.
Regardless, the 2014 All-Star represents a potentially major addition to the rotation whenever he is ready. How does Melvin view Alvarez?
“Like an in-season free agent signing. A key one,” the manager said Saturday morning. “He’s going to be really good for us, barring setbacks and so forth. He’s got quite the track record.”
Alvarez, who turns 26 next month, is 27-34 with a 3.80 ERA over 92 career starts with the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins. Though the win-loss record doesn’t impress, he was a very highly regarded prospect coming up with Toronto, and the A’s view him as a top-of-the-rotation type talent. He threw three shutouts in 2014, when he went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA for the Marlins.
Even before he returns, Alvarez serves a productive purpose. He’s a reminder to Oakland’s current starters that they need to be on top of their game or face the prospect of possibly being supplanted at some point.
Melvin was asked for his impression of Alvarez thus far, though at the time he spoke, he’d only seen Alvarez throw fastballs and changeups off the mound.
“He’s got some deception,” Melvin said. “He’s got a nice clean delivery but a quick arm. … He’s a guy that, if he’s throwing 92, it seems to play a little bit faster.”
A day after taking his team to task in the media for poor defensive play, Melvin said he thinks the recent problems have primarily been a lack of focus.
“The thing about it is, they’ve been working so hard. I’ve never been in a camp where guys have worked as hard as they have.”
With spring training winding down and preparations underway for the trip north, Melvin thinks maybe the A’s concentration as a team has wandered a bit.
“But that’s not an excuse because the season's even more of a grind, and what spring training does is condition you for the season,” he said. “They have to understand that too. They have to keep their focus. The last few days haven’t been great. You address it and move on.”
Entering Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, the A’s had committed 17 errors in their previous eight games.
Sam Fuld and his wife, Sarah, welcomed their fourth child, John Spencer, on Friday. He weighed 9 pounds, 1 ounce.