Express closer R.J. Alvarez turns high heat into All-Star stuff


When R.J. Alvarez isn’t closing games for the Round Rock Express, he probably can be found deep sea fishing back home in South Florida.

The Pacific Coast League’s saves leader, voted into the Triple-A All-Star game next Wednesday, owns a boat and finds both challenge and relaxation in the salt waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

“I’ve got a few sweet spots and really enjoy going after sailfish,” Alvarez said. “But I’m not that picky. If it swims in the sea, I’ve probably caught it.”

PCL batters have had about as much luck against Alvarez this year as the fish. In 28 innings over 29 appearances, the hard-throwing right-hander has converted 17 of 18 save chances. He carries a 2.22 ERA and is limiting opposing hitters to a .219 average.

“Confidence, consistency, poise,” Express pitching coach Brian Shouse said when asked to describe Alvarez. “He takes the bull by the horns and stays focused on the moment. He’s the guy you want at the back end of the bullpen.”

Alvarez, recognizable by his long, flowing dark locks, goes right after batters with a 96-97 mph four-seam fastball and an 85-87 mph slider and splitter.

“I’ve always been a power pitcher, a high-velo guy,” he said. “I learned the splitter in 2016 and really started developing it last year. It’s good against lefties, and they’ve always been my kryptonite. It gives me some funk from the right side.”

Despite the formidable arsenal, the 27-year-old has been frequently shuffled around since the Angels made him their 2012 third-round draft choice out of Florida Atlantic. He has played for eight minor league teams and two major league clubs and has been in four organizations.

“It’s been a pretty wild ride,” Alvarez said. “I started finding out about the business of baseball around the trade deadline in 2014 when I was sent by the Angels to the Padres.

“I got to the majors really fast in San Diego and only allowed one run in eight innings, but then I was like instantly traded to the A’s. At one point the Cubs claimed me, and I spent about a half-second with them. Eventually I landed with the Rangers and here I am.”

A PCL All-Star.

“It’s crazy. I just turned 27, the average age in Triple-A, and I feel like I’ve been around the block. Twice,” Alvarez said. “One reason I’ve probably not been to an All-Star game is because I’ve never been in one spot long enough.”

The main reason for that was a lack of command.

“I started off terrible last year and knew something had to change,” he said. “I made a couple small mechanical adjustments with my hands. I used to get set at my waist, and now I get set up by my face. It was a pretty high-effort delivery and was taking a little movement off my pitches, too.

“The changes allowed me to have better command and get ahead in counts, not having to throw as many predictable fastballs. No matter how hard you throw, if the count is 2-0 or 3-1, they’re sitting on the fastball.”

Round Rock manager Jason Wood said Alvarez has become dependable.

“He’s always had the swing-and-miss stuff, but now he can throw all three pitches for strikes,” Wood said. “Success breeds confidence.”

With the trade deadline later this month, Alvarez hopes for his next major league opportunity.

“The Rangers have some good arms in their pen, and they could be making some moves,” he said. “Maybe my time is coming. I’ve already seen enough in my career to know it can happen at any moment.”

Wood said Alvarez’s good work isn’t going unnoticed.

“I guarantee you there are a lot of eyes on him right now,” Wood said. “He has next-level stuff. For R.J., it’s just a matter of timing.”



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