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The Debut: Jose Alvarado

We’re looking at the Major League debuts of current Rays players

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Miami Marlins v Tampa Bay Rays
May 3rd, 2017 - Jose Alvarado’s MLB debut
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

During the Spring of 2012, the Tampa Bay Rays signed a 17 year old lanky left-handed pitcher from Venezuela who could barely scrape the high 80’s in fastball velocity.

Jose Alvarado, who had recently begun actively training to be a professional baseball player, was showcased along with more than 60 other teenagers at his academy. The Colorado Rockies came close to an agreement with Alvarado, but it was the Tampa Bay Rays who signed to a $50,000 contract.

Alvarado’s professional career would immediately get underway as he was assigned to the Rays team in the Venezuelan Summer League and he immediately impressed with his strikeout numbers. His fastball velocity had spiked, as he could now reach the upper 90’s with exceptional movement.

He moved stateside in 2014 and continued to show a knack for missing bats, registering a 25.8 K% while working as a starting pitcher. His weakness was a propensity to allow free passes with a 16.3 BB%.

Another problem that plagued Alvarado was his temper. A turbulent young kid had turned into an angry young man and one day during the 2014 season, Alvarado got into a heated confrontation with manager of the Princeton Rays, Danny Sheaffer.

Alvarado was suspended and his future as a professional baseball player was in doubt. He returned home in sorrow and apologized to his mother and stated, “If they ever give me another chance, I will make it big.”

Alvarado apologized to Sheaffer and the Rays oranization; he was reinstated in October and resumed his career, but now he would be working out of the bullpen.

Alvarado thrived in relief with his stuff playing significantly up in shorter outings in which he didn’t have to pace himself. In the yeas since signing, Alvarado had become bulkier and it was a struggle for him to stay in sync on the mound, which exacerbated his tendency to give up free passes.

Nonetheless, in 2017, Alvarado would be added to the Rays 40-man roster despite never having pitched above High-A. This showed the Rays believed he could be a Major League arm one day and didn’t want to risk loving his elite potential in the Rule 5 draft.

However, one could not have anticipated just how quickly Alvarado would arrive at the big league stage.

Prior to the start of the 2017 season, Alvarado pitched for the Venezuelan National Team in the World Baseball Classic and then was assigned to Double-A Montgomery. In early May, the Tampa Bay Rays needed a fresh arm in their bullpen. Although he had only pitched in 9 games above A-ball, Alvardo was already on the 40-man roster and he got the call. And thus, the Tampa Bay Rays called up the 21 year old Alvarado from Double-A Montgomery on May 3rd, 2017.

Alvarado would make his debut later that night against the Miami Marlins.

In the top of the 7th, with the Rays trailing 7-4, Kevin Cash turned to Jose Alvarado to make his big league debut against a potent Marlins lineup that had just shellacked Austin Pruitt for five runs the previous inning.

The first hitter to step to the plate against Alvrarado was Miami’s second baseman, Miguel Rojas, whom Alvarado started off with a 96 mph fastball right down the pipe.

The second pitch was a 99 mph fastball with incredible sinking movement; Rojas made soft contact and chopped the ball softly and it dribbled slowly halfway between third base and home. Alvarado took off after the ball, fielded it and unfurled what was likely a ball with triple digit velocity (with heavy sink) toward Rickie Weeks Jr who had the dubious honor of trying to corral Alvarado’s throw.

The throw skipped past Weeks Jr and Rojas was safe and credited with an infield single.

Next up was Adeiny Hechavarria, who bunted at the first offering from Alvarado and bounced the ball a few feet in front of home plate. The catcher, Jesus Sucre, quickly fielded the ball and looked to get the lead runner at second, but bounced the throw and Rojas slid in safely with Hechavarria reaching via a fielder’s choice.

Future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki was now at the plate and finally seen more than two pitches from Alvarado as the veteran made the rookie work. After five pitches, in which one of them wild and allowed the runners to advance, Ichiro pulled a groundball right to Rickie Weeks Jr at first base. However, Weeks Jr bobbled the ball and the fleet footed Ichiro made it a race to the bag.

As the two closed in on the base, Ichiro went into a slide and Weeks was just able to skim the tip of Ichiro’s helmet before he made contact with first base for the out — Suzuki was initially called safe, but replay overturned the decision.

JT Realmuto was now up and he jumped all over an Alvarado fastball and sent to the wall on a bounce in right field. Both runners scored easily and Realmuto made it all the way to third for a triple; Realmuto would cross the plate himself two pitches later after Martin Prado flew out to right field.

Christian Yelich was Alvarado’s final hitter of the game and instead of attacking with his velocity, Alvarado displayed his hard curveball throughout the at-bat and eventually enticed a routine groundball for the last out of the inning.

All in all, Alvarado had allowed three runs to score on just two hits while he didn’t walk or strikeout anyone. Following the game, Alvarado said, “I fulfilled a dream today. Not only my own dream, but a dream for my family and my children, as well.”

It has now been nearly three full years since Alvarado made his big league debut and in that time, he has become one of the more dominant relievers in the game. He has been able to harness the command of his wiffle ball like fastball, routinely touching triple digits on the radar gun and dazzling social media with the incredible movement of his pitches.

The 2019 season was basically a lost one for Alvarado as he dealt with family issues off the field in Venezuela with Alvarado wanted to take care of his ailing mother and then once he returned, Alvarado’s mind was clouded with his mom’s health and his body was ravaged by injuries.

However, Alvarado entered Spring Training in 2020 completely healthy and his mother now lives in the United States, allowing Alvarado to have a clear mind once the season gets underway.

You may watch Jose Alvarado’s full 16 minute MLB debut below