In the third inning of last night’s win over the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez was visited on the mound by manager John Farrell and trainer George Poulis to check on the pitcher’s back. The 22 year old had been rubbing his side after extending his body in an attempt to reach a high bouncer. After a few practice pitches, he was deemed fit to remain in the game.
As we all know, Alvarez later left the game in the sixth inning with stiffness on the inside of his right elbow. In post game interviews, Farrell claimed that the two injuries weren’t related, and while that may be true, we can see a definite difference in Alvarez’s release point on his pitches for the first three innings and immediately after.
Here’s where his release point was from the start of the game to the end of the third inning:
And here’s where his release points were for the remainder of his outing:
It’s worth noting that Alvarez threw only four sliders/cutters after the third inning, but had tossed 23 prior to injuring his back. Over the course of the season, the slider/cutter has accounted for 15% of his repertoire, but during last night’s game he went to the pitch 35% of the time over the first three innings.
So, while there’s a definite change in both his release point and repertoire after he was checked out for his back injury, we see that the most dramatic changes happened in the fifth inning:
While we can certainly identify a change, it’s impossible to know if his elbow injury was the cause or result of that change. It certainly would be possible for a pitcher to change his mechanics to compensate for a hurt back, but it would be just as likely to see a pitcher over use a pitch that’s notoriously hard on an arm and feel the effects of doing so.
One thing out of all this is clear: Alvarez was showing signs that he wasn’t quite right on the mound long before he was actually shut down.