WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The last thing anybody wanted to hear about Yordan Alvarez on Tuesday was his disclosure that he still has a hand issue – the problem that plagued him last season and contributed to him playing in only 135 games during a season that ended with a World Series conquest of Philadelphia.
On the day when the Astros had their first full-squad workout at spring training, Alvarez was unable to do what he does best – hit prodigious home runs. At this early part of spring training, Alvarez can’t even hit because of soreness in his left hand.
When Alvarez grips his bat and steps into the batter’s box, fans don’t line up at the restrooms or visit the concession stands at Minute Maid Park. They remain focused on Alvarez and are mesmerized by his mammoth home runs, like his three-run, walk-off homer that won the first game over Seattle in the American League Division Series and his 450-foot moon shot to center field in the World Series-clinching sixth game against the Phillies.
Alvarez doesn’t seem too concerned about his sore left hand.
He was placed on the 10-day injured list last season because of soreness in his right hand. He also received treatment on his left hand. That didn’t keep him from hitting 37 home runs, driving in 95 runs, and batting .306.
“The hand did flare up a little in the offseason, and it’s something we’re going to monitor,” Alvarez said through an interpreter. “There’s a little discomfort, and it’s something we’re going to work on. I’m going to take a couple of days off here like I did in the offseason and prepare, but it’s not going to be an issue during the season. Obviously, I use my hands every day at the ballpark. The easy solution is just rest.”
Inquiring minds wanted to know more during Alvarez’s first media session at spring training. Does Alvarez have a timetable before he’s able to hit? Exactly how much soreness does he experience? Does his hand need surgery?
“I think it’ll happen in a couple of days,” he said about getting into the batting cage for the first time. “I spoke to the (training) staff, and we decided it’s better to take a couple of days now than during the season, so once the season starts I don’t have to stop again.”
As far as surgery ever being considered, manager Dusty Baker said, “They (team’s medical staff) said it didn’t need it (surgery). Anybody that would know about hand problems, it’s me. I’ve had four of them (surgeries). So far, the doc says he doesn’t need surgery.
“Look, it’s tough, but we’ve got six weeks (before the season begins). He did pretty good last year with a hurt hand. Hopefully, it’ll subside, and he’ll feel better. Now’s not the time to panic. I’d like to think I have healing power, but I don’t. We’ve got one of the best training staffs around, and I’ll put him in the hands of our doctors.”
Baker and the doctors will consult with Alvarez to see when he’s ready to pick up a bat again and start smashing home runs.
“From my point of view, it’s up to him,” Baker said. “Hopefully, his hand feels better. He doesn’t know how he hurt it. If you’re a ballplayer, sometimes you wake up sore, so we just have to see how it turns out.”
Alvarez, 25, should be a legitimate MVP candidate this season if he can stay healthy. He spent the offseason trying to make sure he would be more durable in 2023. One of his goals is to play more games in left field. And he wants to become a more accomplished outfielder.
“My body was what I focused on in the offseason so I could have a better season,” he said. “I worked on my legs because I know I’m going to be playing in the outfield more. I’m working on my legs to be in better shape.”
Alvarez doesn’t believe Baker will limit his number of appearances in the outfield. He takes a lot of pride in how much he improved defensively last season. He doesn’t want to be a designated hitter who’s asked to play some games in left field. He wants to be a left fielder who also fills in as a designated hitter.
“I don’t think I have a limit for that as long as the manager puts me there – that’s one of the things I worked on in the offseason,” he said, “I don’t think I have limitations for how much I can play out there.”
Baker was asked about his expectations for Alvarez if he’s able to stay healthy and play in more games.
“I don’t put those kind of expectations on guys, especially the young guys,” he said. “You put that kind of pressure on yourself, and you don’t get off to a good start, and then you think, ‘I have to do more this month.’”
Then Baker placed high expectations on Alvarez.
“The sky’s the limit (but) we’ve just got to keep him healthy,” he said. “If we can keep him healthy, hopefully, he can play a few more games than he played last year. We missed him like we missed Michael (Brantley). It sounds corny, but health is the key.”
Baker was asked about pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who’s dealing with soreness in his right elbow and hasn’t thrown in a week.
“He’s getting better,” he said. “He’s in a good frame of mind. You know you’re going to have issues. I’d like to at least start the season healthy.”
Looking around the practice fields at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, Baker pointed out how much talent he has in the Astros’ bid to win back-to-back World Series.
“This is like a king with his army around him,” he said. “This is a special group of guys here. I know what I expect. I know what they expect. The leaders of this team, the veterans, they lead the way for the young guys and show them how to go about your business. Sometimes, as a manager, the best things are unsaid. Let the leaders emerge. I don’t appoint them. Our leaders here are very positive guys, and I have faith in them.”
And Baker has faith in Alvarez, so he’ll give his power hitter all the time he needs for the soreness to be gone in his hand so he can continue to launch tape-measure home runs as well as play left field better than ever.
(John McClain writes four columns a week for GallerySports.com. He can be heard Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Sports Radio 610 and Thursday on Texans Radio. He does three weekly Houtopia podcasts for 610. He also can be read three times a week on SportsRadio610.com).