By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
ST. PETERSBURG — May has always been a special month for Jose Alvarado.
His birthday is the 21st, and his daughter, Victoria, was also born in May.
The month became a little more special for the left-handed reliever when he made his major-league debut on May 3 with the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I guarantee you I will never forget that date,” Alvarado said before Wednesday’s game against Kansas City. “May is definitely a great month for me.”
Alvarado’s promotion from Double-A Montgomery came as a surprise to most — Alvarado included.
“In my mind, I was going to keep working at it down in double-A, and eventually get to the Futures All-Star Game,” Alvarado said. “Then, after that, hopefully try to win a spot. They surprised me early and it was great.”
The Rays had other plans for Alvarado, who threw 11.1 innings with a 2.38 ERA and 14 strikeouts with the Biscuits. When left-hander Xavier Cedeno hit the disabled list with forearm tightness, the Rays were in need of a southpaw out of the bullpen.
Alvarado was essentially the only in-house option, despite making just nine appearances above single-A.
“He’s committed to throwing strikes,” Manager Kevin Cash said. “I’m sure there’s always a want to do it, but then you actually have to go out and do it, and that’s what he’s proven through his first 10-12 innings of work in double-A that allowed him to get back up here. It’s great to see he hasn’t changed. Nothing is altered, he’s just pounding the strike zone.”
It was just seven months ago Alvarado was pitching for the Advanced-A Charlotte Stone Crabs, a far cry from the major leagues.
The last half-year has been a whirlwind for Alvarado. He had the opportunity to spend spring training with the big club, but perhaps more importantly, he was named to the Venezuelan roster in the World Baseball Classic.
“The experience itself of being in the World Baseball Classic was an amazing opportunity to be there with all of these experienced stars,” Alvarado said. “To get their advice, and watch them play, I think it was something that really helped me a lot and gave me an advantage to help me push my career ahead.”
Alvarado went 1-0 in three relief appearances in the WBC, and allowed three runs, but also had four strikeouts. It’s that experience which gave Cash the confidence the 21-year-old would be able to make a huge jump from double-A to the majors.
“We didn’t really see Jose too much during spring training. There were just brief appearances,” Cash said. “He pitched in the WBC, which I think was probably a really good thing for him. To get that kind of intensity, and that environment, and then to come up here and be ‘been there, done that.’”
Alvarado was acquired by the Rays in 2012 as a free agent out of Venezuela. He was just 16 at the time, and didn’t have much experience playing baseball. In fact, he was hesitant to start playing seriously at all.
“Somebody just saw me playing one day,” Alvarado said. “It was actually on a basketball court we were playing baseball. Somebody from the (Rays Venezuelan) academy came to me and said they wanted me to come to the academy.
“I went there, and I said, ‘This was not for me.’”
Alvarado returned home and told his mom he wasn’t interested, so she told him that was fine, but he’d have to go get a job.
After some time, Rays scouts came calling again to try to convince Alvarado to reconsider. Considering he’s a hard-throwing lefty, they told him he’d have a good chance.
“I figured I could at least give it a try,” he said. “Within four months, I was signed with the Rays.”
Through Thursday, Alvarado had made four appearances with the Rays. He’s been nearly flawless in the three relief outings since allowing three runs on that May 3 debut — which, by the way, could’ve easily been a scoreless inning if not for a combination of unlucky scoring and poor decision-making by his teammates.
He’s combined five innings pitched, and has allowed just three hits in the 18 batters he’s faced. On Tuesday night, he was the best Rays pitcher in a 7-6 loss, where he tossed a pair of scoreless innings.
There’s also still plenty of time left in May to make it an even more memorable month.