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September 12, 2017

Former All-Star Alvarez eager to start for Phillies in first appearance in 2-plus years

Maybe he’ll be looking for work again in two months, when baseball’s free agent season gets underway, but Henderson Alvarez at least has the chance to pitch on a big league mound again in the next three weeks, and that’s about as much as he can ask at this point.

Alvarez, the former Marlins All-Star right-hander who only turned 27 in April, is expected to start for the Phillies in a game this weekend (likely on Sunday) at Citizens Bank Park against the Oakland Athletics. When he takes the mound, it will be Alvarez’s first major league appearance in more than 840 days.

Alvarez pitched in just five games with the Marlins in 2015 before undergoing shoulder surgery. He underwent a second procedure on his shoulder last September, after attempting a comeback with the Athletics (pitching in 11 minor league games throughout last year).

“To be back here in MLB is awesome,” Alvarez said inside the Phillies clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s been tough, but I’ve been able to keep my head up. I had two shoulder surgeries that kept me away from the game, but I understand it’s part of baseball. I’ve been working hard and it has finally paid off.”

Alvarez’s latest comeback tour began three months ago during a workout in Miami in front of 15 teams. Under the guidance of his agent, Alvarez began his 2017 season this summer with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent League, where he had a 3.94 ERA and 14 walks and 13 strikeouts in seven games.

The rust was probably to be expected. Alvarez just wanted the opportunity to prove that he was strong and healthy, and it worked since the Phillies scooped him and turned him from a Duck into a Pig last month when he joined Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Alvarez went 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in three games with the Pigs, including holding Scranton-Wilkes Barre to one run on five hits in seven innings on Labor Day to clinch a postseason berth on the final day of the regular season.

“He’s a guy we’ve been intrigued by for a lot of years,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said when the Phillies signed him to a minor league deal last month. “He was pretty freakin’ good those early years with the Marlins. He had some injury setbacks the last few years but we’ve been watching him in the Independent League. … This allows him to get back into affiliated baseball and also gives us a quick look before we head into the offseason.”

There aren’t any commitments on either end. But it’s a long-awaited opportunity for a pitcher who represented the Marlins at the 2014 All-Star Game, which came about 10 months after he threw a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season at Marlins Park in 2013.

“It’s definitely a great place to get my career going again,” Alvarez said of joining the rebuilding Phillies.

Alvarez hasn’t officially been activated yet, but since he has a locker stall and a uniform number (he’ll wear Jonathan Papelbon’s No.58) that should happen in the very near future.

“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. “I want to show them that my shoulder is strong and that I’m ready to go.”

There isn’t any exact blueprint for the composition of a contending team. Perhaps, just maybe, Alvarez could have landed with the Phillies organization last month the same way a non-tendered Jayson Werth found a home with them 10 years ago, or Shane Victorino as a Rule 5 pick, or pretty much any member of the ’08 relief corps that wasn’t Ryan Madson or Brad Lidge.

Or maybe he’s just one of the extra guys we’ll see on an ever-changing roster in September when big league rosters expand. Right-hander Victor Arano, an intriguing 22-year-old relief prospect slowed with an elbow injury in spring training, and left-hander Zac Curtis, claimed off waivers from the Seattle Mariners, were both added to the Phillies active roster for Tuesday’s game against the Marlins.

Alvarez was one of 14 MLB ptichers (and only six in the NL) with a sub-3.00 ERA between 2014-2014 (min. 45 starts):

 Clayton Kershaw  1.80
 Johnny Cueto2.37
Felix Hernandez2.55 
 Chris Sale2.67 
 Adam Wainwright 2.67
Zack Greinke 2.68 
 Alex Cobb2.82
Madison Bumgarner  2.88 
 Anibal Sanchez2.92
 Yu Darvish2.92 
 Jordan Zimmermann  2.96 
 Henderson Alvarez2.98 
 Corey Kluber2.98
 Sonny Gray2.99 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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