With Jose Fernandez already lost for the season, the Marlins could ill afford to have their best remaining starter go down, as well. But for a few nervous moments on Sunday, that possibility existed when Henderson Alvarez lie injured on the infield dirt behind first base.
Alvarez landed awkwardly after leaping high in the air to take a flip toss from first baseman Garrett Jones while covering the bag, his left leg stretching out in front of him on the landing. The pitcher eventually managed to get back on his feet and return to the mound for a practice throw.
But he looked so stiff that manager Mike Redmond wouldn’t allow Alvarez to continue, and the pitcher left the game in the sixth with what was described as a left hip strain.
Fortunately for the Marlins, who pulled out a 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs to avoid a sweep, Redmond said it appears that the injury is not serious, and Alvarez shouldn’t miss a start.
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“It seems like we dodged a bullet,” Redmond said.
The Marlins won’t know for sure until Alvarez tells them how the hip is feeling after another day or two. But the pitcher didn’t sound concerned when he spoke to reporters afterward.
“I feel good, thank God,” said Alvarez, who even returned to the field following the win to congratulate his teammates. “I felt like I could still pitch, but for precautionary reasons, they took me out.”
Redmond said the decision to lift Alvarez was a “no-brainer.”
“We need him for the long haul,” Redmond said. “One [more] at-bat there is not worth a season.”
Alvarez began the day on Sunday having not allowed a run over his previous 21 innings. He continued the streak by breezing through the first five innings and mixed in a little fun at the same time.
After Cubs third baseman and Venezuelan countryman Luis Valbuena spotted Alvarez during batting practice and begged him not to throw his eephus pitch, Alvarez did just that, throwing one 59-mph floater to Valbuena in the second inning and another in the fourth. Each time, Alvarez followed the pitch with a 95-mph fastball. Valbuena struck out the first time but doubled the second.
But it was Valbuena’s sixth-inning at-bat that put a scare into the Marlins. Valbuena hit a sharp grounder that Jones gloved. Alvarez sprinted toward the bag at first to take the throw, but Jones’ flipped high in the air. Alvarez leaped, made the grab, but came down on the other side of the bag and fell.
No one felt worse than Jones.
“It was devastating,” Jones said. “He’s been pitching unbelievable for us. We wanted to win this ballgame, and for him to have to come out for a play like that, I was upset about it. At first I felt bad, I was mad, a lot of emotions. He was on my mind.”
Jones was charged with an error and, after Dan Jennings took over for the injured Alvarez, two of the inherited runners ended up scoring. That brought an end to Alvarez’s scoreless innings streak at 26, making it the third-longest streak in team history.
Jones was part of the late-inning comeback, though. With the Marlins trailing 3-2 in the eighth, his sacrifice fly scored the tying run, and the go-ahead run scored on a wild pitch by Cubs reliever Pedro Strop. Steve Cishek worked the ninth for his 14th save.
“I really wanted to win that ballgame, and win it for [Alvarez], and do what I could to get us back in the game,” Jones said.
Said Redmond: “We can’t afford anymore injuries, especially those pitchers. We can’t afford anybody else to get hurt. Hopefully, we got lucky there.”