CLEVELAND — The Rays want to believe in Jose Alvarado.
They want to have confidence that the dazzling stuff he has on the mound will translate to making him a lock-down, high-leverage, late-inning reliever, the kind they can put their trust, and their postseason hopes, in.
Good enough to pretty much bank any game he takes over, reliable enough not to think about needing to spend what it takes to get reinforcements.
But he might be giving them reason to think twice about that.
For the second time in eight days, Alvarado failed in a critical situation.
On Friday he allowed two runs in a messy three-walk eighth inning that gave the Indians a 3-1 win over the Rays.
“I felt good, I thought I was out there throwing the ball hard,’’ Alvarado said, via translator Manny Navarro. “But like I’ve said before, in this game, it’s not (always) going to go your way. … It’s just part of the game. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s nothing else I can really say about it.’’
Alvarado came in to relieve Blake Snell with two on and two outs in the seventh and quickly took care of business, getting a fly out on his first pitch.
But the eighth was different. Much different.
He loaded the bases with a leadoff single and back-to-back one out walks. Alvarado struck out Jose Ramirez, then gave up the go-ahead run on a slow roller toward third that Daniel Robertson couldn’t make the bare-handed pickup, but he likely didn’t have a play anyway.
Robertson, who was playing deep, blamed himself, more for not thinking the situation through ahead of time that with catcher Roberto Perez running he would have had more time and could have used his glove.
“I tried to make a play, and I (messed) it up. That’s on me,'' he said. "I’ve got to know my runner. It’s an instinctual play. When you’re running towards the ball you’re not thinking if you’re gonna go with your glove or your hand. Where I messed up was before the pitch. I should have told myself, know your runner, anything that’s moving glove it to give your team a chance. I didn’t do that. Therefore they ended up scoring two runs after that and we lost.''
The next batter was former Ray Jake Bauers. Alvarado thought he had him struck out on what umpire Eric Cooper called ball three, then bounced the next pitch to force in another run and make it 3-1.
Of the 24 pitches Alvarado threw in the eighth, only 10 were strikes.
“It looked like he was initially trying to make the perfect pitch when he probably didn’t have to,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “And then with the baserunners getting on there, it put a little more pressure into the situation. With Jose’s stuff, aim for the white and let your stuff play a little bit.’’
Last Friday in New York, Alvarado came on with a two-run lead in the ninth and gave up three runs on four hits. He then came back the next day and closed the Yankees out in the ninth. Overall, he has converted five of six saves, but has four losses and a 3.15 ERA. More concerning, he has allowed 12 walks (and 15 hits) in 20 innings over 21 games.
Cash said the inconsistency doesn’t diminish his confidence in Alvarado to work in the highest leverage situations.
“Not at all,’’ he said. “No. Not at all.’’
Neither did Snell, who saw another solid effort go for naught as he held the Indians to one run while working into the seventh.
"I love Jose. I know what he’s going to do. I know what he brings to the team,'' Snell said. "It’s going to happen. It happens to everybody. But with him, I know he’s going to keep working hard. He’s going to get it figured out, whatever it is. We all go through it. I’m not worried about. I know he’s going to work through it. And get back to dominant Jose like he always has been.''
That Snell’s effort wasn’t good enough for a win wasn’t his fault.
Rays hitters only scored one while he was in the game, the seventh time in 10 starts he has gotten one or no runs of support. They struck out 15 times, went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on.
The loss dropped the Rays to 29-19 and kept them from what would have been their first three-game winning streak in nearly a month.
A leadoff double and an RBI single by Avisail Garcia gave the Rays the lead as they scored in the first inning for the second straight game after 11 without. Overall, they’ve scored in the first in 23 of 48 games and have outscored opponents 37-16 in the opening frame.
The Indians tied it in the fourth when Jordan Luplow knocked a 96 mph Snell fastball over the rightfield fence.
Rays hitters struck out 10 times in the first five innings against Indians starter Shane Bieber, who was impressive. But Bieber threw 111 pitches to get through those five innings, and his night was over.
Snell was sharp, though not overpowering. He allowed three other hits besides the Luplow homer, walking three and striking out seven while throwing 104 pitches.
"I felt great today; I’ve been feeling good,'' Snell said. "Frustrated with three walks. Frustrated with some of the outcomes. For the most part, I executed very well. Upset with how I started and how I finished. A lot of deeper counts that didn’t need to happen.
"Just a frustrating one.''
Right up until the end.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.