MIAMI (AP) — Henderson Alvarez’s a pitcher, and that’s not his only position. He’ll throw a batter out at first base while sitting on the mound. He’ll lie flat on his back while watching a teammate make a play.
Most of all, Alvarez will rise to the occasion when the Miami Marlins need him most. He has been doing it for weeks.
The Marlins are unbeaten in Alvarez’s past nine starts, keeping them afloat in the NL East after ace Jose Fernandez’s season-ending elbow injury. They won again Tuesday, when Alvarez allowed only two runs in seven innings to help beat Philadelphia, leaving his ERA at 2.33.
“Henderson has been outstanding,” teammate Ed Lucas said. “He has really picked us up in Jose’s absence and been our ace.”
The 24-year-old Alvarez goes about his business with theatrical flair. He goes into a comically elaborate windup before his first pitch in each game. He takes lusty swings at the plate. He throws a 96 mph fastball, and an occasional 56 mph junk curve. And his defensive work can be endlessly entertaining.
When the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett hit a broken-bat dribbler, Alvarez leaped to avoid the barrel, collapsed on the mound and watched from a supine position as third baseman Casey McGehee threw the batter out.
“I saw the bat coming at me and tried to dodge it,” Alvarez said. “It scraped me a little bit on the leg, but I was able to dodge enough to just sit back and watch the play.”
Five innings later, Alvarez fell again, this time gloving Cameron Rupp’s one-hopper and tossing to first for the out — while sitting on the mound.
“I’m glad he at least sat up,” Redmond said.
Does Alvarez run the risk of rubbing the opposition the wrong way? Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said there’s more leeway for a pitcher who’s good.
“He has pitched well against us. I’ll just leave it at that,” Sandberg said. “To back it up is a big part of it. He reminds me a bit of Pascual Perez back in the day with his antics.”
The flamboyant Perez, who would look between his legs to check baserunners, pitched in the majors from 1980 to 1991.
Redmond is not always thrilled by Alvarez’s comportment. On Tuesday, Alvarez grounded out and took only a few halfhearted steps toward first, then drew a mild scolding from Redmond when he returned to the dugout.
An inning later, Alvarez again grounded out and sprinted to first.
“We had a conversation,” Redmond said. “He ran the next time, right? I don’t want to make a big deal out it, but I just want our guys to be consistent in the way they do everything — run, field, compete.”
Alvarez was acquired in a payroll-paring trade with Toronto in November 2012 that antagonized Marlins fans weary of the franchise’s perennially tight budget. But in retrospect the deal looks good for Miami, because Alvarez has developed into one of the NL’s best right-handers.
The Venezuelan threw a no-hitter on the final day of last season that carried his characteristically quirky stamp. He was in the on-deck circle when the game ended with the Marlins scoring on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth to win 1-0.
That performance set the tone for this season. Because of modest run support he’s only 5-3, but he ranks fifth in the majors in ERA and has been dominant since Fernandez was sidelined in mid-May.
Alvarez leads the league with an ERA of 1.01 in eight starts since May 22. He hasn’t allowed a homer in his past 61 innings.
With team victories in his past nine starts, Alvarez has tied the franchise record set by Chris Hammond in the Marlins’ 1993 expansion season. During the same stretch, the rest of the rotation is 8-15.
“We’ve been fortunate every time I go out there to get the win,” he said.
Never mind any antics; Alvarez’s emergence as an ace has been his most eye-catching act.
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