For the second time in the past year, Dario Alvarez struck out 12 batters for a Mets' Minor League affiliate Tuesday. Savannah pitching coach Marc Valdes was there for both outings and has seen notable improvements in the left-hander between them.
"He's a little better than he was last year," Valdes said. "He's made some strides mechanically. … He definitely had his pitches working tonight."
The 25-year-old delivered five scoreless innings, allowing three singles and a walk in Class A Savannah's 6-1 victory over Greenville.
For Alvarez (2-0), the outing slimmed his ERA to 0.36 in seven appearances (three starts) this season. He has 39 strikeouts in 25 innings mostly as a reliever -- he started Tuesday because Savannah's bullpen has been taxed by a number of rainouts and doubleheaders recently.
"He got ahead today and then he had that put-away plus slider," Valdes said. "He was tough on lefties and righties. He got a lot of swings-and-misses on it. He was locating it on the back foot to righties and on the back door to them, and then using it to chase lefties. He had that pitch in his back pocket the whole time."
The left-hander paired the breaking pitch with his low- to mid-90s fastball, dominating Drive hitters through his five frames. The outing was similar to one he made with short-season Brooklyn against Lowell on July 24, 2013. On that day, he struck out 12 Spinners over six one-hit frames -- four of those Boston prospects were in the lineup against Alvarez on Tuesday.
Valdes didn't think there was much to read into the matchup, though. The Red Sox affiliates just seem to catch the promising Mets hurler on his best days.
"When he stays within himself, his fastball is good enough to get to guys," Valdes said. "Sometimes he gets too slider happy. Today, he threw it for strikes and got swings-and-misses, even throwing 3-2 sliders."
Alvarez was initially signed by Philadelphia as a teenager and made his pro debut in 2007 with Philadelphia's Dominican Summer League affiliate. He spent three years at the level -- posting a 2.59 ERA in 14 appearances (13 starts) in 2009 -- before the Phillies released him.
He played in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2012, where he threw 5 1/3 innings and posted an 8.44 ERA with Anzoategui. In that time, he caught the eyes of Mets' scouts and signed a contract for the 2013 season.
He made 12 starts for Brooklyn last summer, going 2-4 with a 3.10 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 58 innings, including the 12 against Lowell.
The Mets -- specifically Valdes, who was Brooklyn's pitching coach in 2013 -- have been working with Alvarez on improving the consistency of his delivery. The hurler has made strides since last summer, repeating his windup without sacrificing his stuff or the deception of how he throws.
"From the swings I was seeing tonight from the dugout, they were having a tough time picking up his pitches," Valdes said. "He was hiding the ball really well. That slider, it looks like it's going to stay in one area, one zone, and then it just disappears. It cuts down hard and away to his glove side. When he stays behind it and gets on top of it, gets that elbow up, it's pretty crisp."
Alvarez began the game with strikeouts of Forrestt Allday and Tzu-Wei Lin. After walking Jantzen Witte and allowing a single to Carlos Asuaje, he induced a fielder's choice from Wendell Rijo to end the frame.
He allowed a one-out single to Kendrick Perkins but otherwise struck out the side in the second, and worked around a leadoff single to Allday in the third with two strikeouts and a groundout. He struck out two more in the fourth and three in the fifth without allowing another base runner.
The left-hander threw 77 pitches, 54 of which were strikes, and all the outs he didn't get via strikeout came on groundouts.
Right-hander Dawrin Frias and struck out five in 1 2/3 innings of relief. He allowed a run on four hits and a walk. Tyler Vanderheiden scored his first save with 2 1/3 hitless innings. He hit a batter and struck out two without a walk.
Mets' No. 9 prospect Gavin Cecchini led the charge offensively for Savannah. The shortstop went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, a run and a stolen base, raising his average to .268 with a .740 OPS this season.