Henderson Alvarez toed the pitching mound in June at a high school baseball field in Miami with the hopes of keeping his dream alive. He had once thrown a no-hitter and pitched in an All-Star Game, but this was what his career had come to.
His right arm, once filled with so much promise, had failed him. Alvarez, who will pitch for the Phillies on Sunday, had two shoulder operations in 14 months and was sidelined all of last season. Scouts from 15 major league teams watched him on that high school mound and left unimpressed.
“I never put my head down,” said Alvarez, who had a 3.80 ERA over five seasons with Toronto and Miami. “My confidence was still fine. I was optimistic. I wanted to pitch.”
The pitcher’s dream seemed to be fading, but he was undeterred. He latched on in July with the Long Island Ducks, an independent team on baseball’s fringe filled with players searching for one last gasp. The 27-year-old pitched well and the Phillies noticed, signing Alvarez to a minor-league contract. Sunday afternoon against Oakland will be his first major league game in 28 months. It was quite the journey.
“It’s been tough, but I’ve been able to keep my head up,” Alvarez said. I’ve been working hard, and it has finally paid off. I wanted to show everyone that my shoulder was OK, that all my body was in good condition, so to be back here is unbelievable.”
The Phillies signed Alvarez knowing they would need pitchers for the season’s final month. They plan to use a six-man rotation — Ben Lively, Alvarez, Nick Pivetta, Aaron Nola, Jake Thompson, and Mark Leiter Jr. — the rest of the season to ease the strain on the young pitchers.
They will watch Alvarez for three starts, eyeing him like the scouts did on that high school mound. They will need to see the toll those two operations took on his right arm. His fastball sat in the mid-90s before his career was derailed. Perhaps the Phillies will be impressed enough to sign him in the off-season as they try to fill out a rotation for next season. Alvarez’s baseball dream, once dim, suddenly has life.
“All I want to do is take advantage of this opportunity that they gave me and show them, everyone actually, that I’m ready to do this again,” Alvarez said.
Sean Manea will face Alvarez in Sunday’s series finale. … The Phillies will face Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood, and Kenta Maeda in a four-game series against Chase Utley and the Dodgers that begins Monday. … The Phillies entered Saturday with 14 losses in their 18 interleague games this year. Their winning percentage since interleague play began in 1997 — .433 — ranks 28th among 30 teams.