MESA, Ariz. – Reliever R.J. Alvarez is armed with an explosive fastball, and now it seems he’s equipped himself with the right approach to the game as well.
That could make the talented right-hander a factor for what figures to be just one available spot in Oakland’s seven-man bullpen. Alvarez had manager Bob Melvin talking Tuesday after an impressive bullpen session.
“It looks like he’s in good shape,” Melvin said. “He’s lost some weight. He’s pretty serious about wanting to get further along in his career, because he definitely has the ability to be a guy that can pitch late in games for us.”
Alvarez’s debut season with the A’s is one he’d rather forget after he came over from San Diego in the Derek Norris trade of December 2014. He posted a 9.90 ERA in 21 appearances spread over multiple stints with the big club, allowing 27 hits, 22 earned runs, 13 walks and seven homers in 20 innings.
“Last year was a struggle, not only for me but our whole team,” Alvarez said.
He can run his fastball into the high-90’s, but it doesn’t do him much good if he can’t control where it’s going. So Alvarez worked over the winter on improving his arm extension in his delivery.
“It’s going to create a more consistent delivery if he can get extended in the same place every time,” Melvin said. “That’s really the final thing for him is to be consistent and throw the baseball where he wants to.”
Alvarez believes he’ll also benefit from the offseason training he did at Cressey Sports Performance near his home in Jupiter, Fla. After finishing last season at 230-plus pounds, he arrived this spring about 10 pounds lighter.
Most of the bullpen seems set with closer Sean Doolittle, John Axford, Liam Hendriks, Ryan Madson and Marc Rzepczynski locked into spots. Fernando Rodriguez will likely claim another spot, with Alvarez and Ryan Dull among the candidates trying to nail down the final job.
NOTEWORTHY: Starter Jesse Hahn is ditching his slider in an effort to reduce the arm trouble he’s had to this point in his career. He’s working on his changeup more in camp, looking to make that an effective complement to his two- and four-seam fastballs and his 12-to-6 curve.
“I don’t know if that’s the exact thing that was causing stress on my elbow, but I know it wasn’t helping,” Hahn said of the slider. “I figured it was only a pitch I threw five percent of the time. I don’t think there’s any harm in getting rid of it to stay healthy.”
Hahn also worked during the offseason to build up his lower-body strength, believing that incorporating his legs more in his delivery will take pressure off his elbow. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and missed about three months last season with a strained forearm.
As a precaution, the A’s are limiting him to throwing off the mound every three days early in camp. Melvin says that shouldn’t affect any schedule to have Hahn ready for the season-opening rotation.
HEALTH UPDATES: Catcher Stephen Vogt, on the mend after elbow surgery, threw for the first time since his surgery. Until Tuesday, Vogt had been catching pitches and flipping to another catcher to throw the ball to the mound. Swinging the bat is what actually bothered Vogt’s elbow the most. He’s been hitting off a tee and will gradually work up to taking regular batting practice. The plan remains for Vogt to make his exhibition debut sometime in mid-March.
LIGHTER SIDE: Always one to keep you guessing with his choice of hairstyles, Coco Crisp has gone conservative, arriving to camp with a basic shaved-head look. That leaves pitcher Sean Manaea and his self-described “Samo-fro” as the hands-down winner for best clubhouse hair.
QUOTABLE: “We’ve got Axford, Madson … I mean, they’re a foot taller than me, but I would say we have a similar arsenal.” – Alvarez, speaking about veteran relievers he can learn from.
ODDS AND ENDS: Second baseman Jed Lowrie, outfielder Sam Fuld and shortstop Richie Martin were the only players yet to report to camp. The full-squad reporting deadline is Thursday.