When New York fans saw the transaction starting with the words “Mets acquire Giancarlo” in late June, they surely were hoping it was Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, not Giancarlo Alvarado — a journeyman pitcher plucked out of the Mexican League and sent to the 51s.
But Alvarado thus far has exceeded all expectations for Las Vegas, compiling a 4-0 record and a 1.03 ERA in his first five starts in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League before struggling in Saturday night’s 9-4 victory over Sacramento at Cashman Field.
The 35-year-old Puerto Rican, who had allowed three runs in 26 1/3 innings entering the game, allowed four runs on six hits in four innings, with two strikeouts and four walks, as his ERA rose to 2.08.
“He’s been as good as anybody in the league,” 51s manager Wally Backman said Thursday. “The way he’s pitched for us, he has been a huge asset.”
In his 19th professional season, Alvarado never has pitched in the big leagues but is holding out hope he can make it there. He said he wouldn’t have signed with the Mets otherwise.
“When they called me, I said ‘If this is something for real I will go, but if there’s not a chance (to reach the majors), don’t even worry about bringing me here’ because I was making pretty good money,” Alvarado said. “They said, ‘It’s always a possibility, and it’s up to you,’ so I took the opportunity, and I came.”
The last player to make his major league debut at age 35 was former Tampa Bay pitcher Jim Morris in 1999, and the feat was so rare that Disney made a movie, “The Rookie,” about him.
Could Alvarado author a sequel? Backman won’t rule it out.
“The way that he’s pitched for us, we do our reports, and we have him as a chance to pitch in the big leagues,” Backman said. “It can happen to a guy like him, who can throw strikes like that.
“His velocity’s fine, 88 to 90 (mph), but the fact he can locate his fastball gives him a chance, at 35.”
A proven pitcher in the PCL, Alvarado went 13-10 with a 3.49 ERA for Albuquerque in 2009 before spending the past three seasons in Japan.
He said the Dodgers offered him a chance to be a long reliever for them in 2010, but his contract wasn’t guaranteed and the one in Japan was.
“I went (to Japan) to try to save some money for my family because this is a job,” he said. “When I started playing baseball it was to make a career, because it’s tough in my country to make it in anything else.”
Alvarado started his career in 1995 in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and also has played in the Brewers, Tigers, Reds, Angels and Dodgers’ systems. He has pitched professionally for three independent league teams and in six countries — Taiwan, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the United States.
About the only place he hasn’t played is in the big leagues, although that doesn’t bother him much.
“Most of the guys who played when I signed, they’re already home nine years ago doing nothing and they don’t know what to do now, and I’m happy playing baseball,” he said. “I’ve met tons of people, flied around the world and been everywhere. I love it.”
Alvarado started for Puerto Rico in the title game of this year’s World Baseball Classic, a 3-0 loss to the Dominican Republic. Despite the defeat, he was proud to represent his country and play alongside big league All-Stars such as Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina.
“What the big league guys said, they were really impressed with was what we were feeling because you’re representing your whole country,” Alvarado said. “It was pretty significant for us to be in that championship against the Dominicans.
“We never thought we were going to make it to the championship. We were really impressed with what we did.”
Backman has been impressed with Alvarado’s poise and conditioning but mostly with his command.
“That makes a huge difference on any level when you can locate your fastball to both sides of the plate, and he’s proven he can do that,” he said. “He can throw all his pitches for strikes at any time, and he can locate his pitches.”
Alvarado isn’t greedy. To realize his goal of reaching the majors, he said he’d settle for sitting on the bench for a game.
“To sit over there one day, that will make it up to me. That will be my payday,” he said. “I don’t need nothing else. I don’t need to throw with a 3-2 count at Yankee Stadium.”
After nearly two decades of toiling around the world without getting a call from the majors, Alvarado remains optimistic about his chances.
“As long as I pitch and do my job, anything can happen,” he said. “If you stay focused and work hard, somebody will give you a chance.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.