Pedro Alvarez

Pedro Alvarez flexing his muscle for Pirates

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Pedro Alvarez quietly tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs this year.

He quietly became the first Pirate in seven years to drive in 100 runs.

He quietly made the All-Star team for the first time.

He even pretty quietly went 4-for-8 with two homers as the Pirates beat the Reds last weekend to clinch home field in the wild card game.

Now Alvarez is going to start getting some more attention. After homering for the Pirates’ only run in Thursday’s Game 1 loss, he homered again and doubled Friday as Pittsburgh evened up the NLDS with a 7-1 victory over St. Louis.

It’s not so say that Alvarez is a star. He hit just .233 this year after slumping in the second half. His OBP, never a strong suit, tumbled from .317 in 2012 to .296 this year. The Pirates had him batting cleanup in the middle of the season, but he was dropped back down to the sixth spot following the Justin Morneau acquisition.

The problem is that Alvarez is just dreadful against left-handers. He hit .180 with three homers in 133 at-bats against them this year, compared to .249 with 33 homers against right-handers. His lifetime average versus southpaws is .200.

Alvarez is also limited at third base. Many figured he would have already made the move to first base by now. His defensive numbers, though, have gotten better since he entered the league, and no position switch seems likely to come in the near future, even though the Pirates will have first base open this winter.

Next year will be Alvarez’s age-27 season. If he doesn’t break through with a .260, 40-homer campaign then, it may never happen. Next year also figures to be his last season as a relatively cheap player; he’s arbitration eligible for the first time and likely to make somewhere around $4 million-$5 million. He’s a definite asset as is, but given his inconsistency and the possibility of more league-leading strikeout totals, he could be a risky long-term proposition. One imagines Alvarez’s showing this month will play in to whether he gets a nice multiyear contract offer from the Pirates this winter.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.