Setup man? Closer? Girardi's answer may have been a subtle hint about Alvarado


While one Jose Alvarado is gearing up for the most crucial part of his season, another is just getting warmed up.

The Phillies' new triple-digit lefty shares a name with one of the best players on Georgia Tech, a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. That Jose Alvarado is a point guard listed at 179 pounds.

This Jose Alvarado is an enticing late-inning relief option for the Phillies who has excelled this spring after losing about 50 pounds.

“Right now, I’m under 260,” Alvarado said after another impressive appearance Wednesday. “I lost almost 50 pounds. My stomach, it looks terrible (laughs).”

Alvarado, partly because of how much he ballooned last season, partly because of arm injuries and partly because of problems with control, was deemed expendable by the Rays and dealt to the Phillies in a three-team trade this offseason. The cost was not high, with the Phils sending lefty reliever Garrett Cleavinger to the Dodgers and the Dodgers sending minor-league first baseman Dillon Paulson to Tampa Bay. Alvarado has, by far, the biggest chance of the three to make an impact over the next few seasons.

Through five appearances this spring, Alvarado has allowed two hits in five scoreless innings, struck out seven, and most importantly, walked just one.

Manager Joe Girardi has still not made a decision yet on who will close for the Phillies, but his answer Wednesday may have subtly revealed that Alvarado is a legit option.

“I’ve still got to let that play out,” Girardi said Wednesday. “That has not been at our forefront of decisions we have to make so we haven’t spoken about it a lot. And I think the makeup of the rest of the ‘pen could affect how we do something.”

It’s hard not to read into how that last sentence could apply to Alvarado and other lefties in the Phillies’ bullpen. If the Phillies carry only two left-handers in their season-opening ‘pen, for example, well then you probably need Alvarado’s left-handedness at other spots in games, even though he’s had success against hitters from both sides.

That’s not so much the case if they carry three or more lefties in the bullpen. Beyond Alvarado, they have Tony Watson, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez. 

Suarez’s arrival in Phillies camp was delayed by visa issues and he’s also dealt with a quad issue, so he hasn’t appeared in a Grapefruit League game. Romero has allowed one run in four innings. Watson, a non-roster invitee, had made three scoreless appearances in camp before allowing four runs on five hits in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays Tuesday.

Alvarado is a much different lefty than the other three. His fastball is much bigger, has more movement, and his breaking ball can be a wipe-out pitch. If he stays healthy, stays in shape and doesn’t revert back to 2019 when he couldn’t throw strikes, he should be an impactful player for the 2021 Phillies, whether he’s closing or setting up. The Phillies do have three other candidates to pitch the ninth inning.

“I’ve been so impressed just by his work ethic. He’s talking about he lost all the weight — I see him every morning training and running,” Girardi said. “He’s making sure he does everything. His stuff has been electric. His curveball has been a big weapon for him and this is a guy that’s throwing 100 with a 92 mph slider, and his curveball’s been a weapon too. I’m impressed by him, really impressed by him. It’s fun to just sit back and watch him.”

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