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This isn't the Rays' Alvarez
By MARC TOPKIN
Published March 24, 2005
VERO BEACH - The Devil Rays had to be happy to see Wilson Alvarez leave after a frustrating five-year stay in which he made $35-million and won only 17 games.
And, as it turned out, it was good for Alvarez to go.
He signed with a new team (the Dodgers) and was put into a new role, a swing man making relief outings and spot starts. Most amazingly, in the new environs he started to pitch like his old self.
"They gave me a chance to be somebody again," Alvarez said before Wednesday's Rays-Dodgers game. "And so far, so good."
In five seasons with the Rays, Alvarez went 17-26 with a 4.62 ERA and spent much of his time injured, missing two full seasons and parts of others. His struggles became something of a symbol of the team's failures.
But in two seasons with the Dodgers, Alvarez has gone 13-8 with a 3.30 ERA, done whatever they needed and had fun along the way.
The difference, he said, is obvious.
"It's health," Alvarez said. "For some reason, since I left there I don't have any problems in my arm. I don't know why."
Alvarez, who turns 35 today, also seems to benefit from being in a secondary role with the Dodgers rather than in the spotlight as Tampa Bay's supposed staff ace.
"Sometimes when you're part of a team that's struggling a little bit, you try to build from the top and you want the instant answer, as opposed to a team that's more stable and you build from the bottom so you can fit a guy into a better role instead of a big role," Dodgers pitching coach Jim Colborn said.
"In that sense, Wilson has been a godsend. He can pitch out of the bullpen for us. He can be the sixth starter, and in the last two years he's started at least 12 games and done very well. He's pitched strongly; it hasn't been a fluke. He's faced some of the best hitters and gotten them out. He's pitched some extremely quality games. He shoulders some heavy loads and he's been able to carry them."
Alvarez said that he doesn't pitch much differently than when he was with the Rays and that, if anything, a drop in velocity has forced him to rely more on location. The results, though, have been impressive. Alvarez has done well enough this spring that the Dodgers are considering putting him in the rotation to start the season.
And the byproduct is that he is enjoying playing baseball again.
"The season goes fast," he said. "When you're winning, it's fun. You want to go to the stadium."
That's a long way from his final days in Tampa Bay, when he said he often considered giving up and going home to his luxurious Sarasota-area home.
"I thought about retiring many times," Alvarez said. "But something inside me said I can't go home like that, doing bad. The best time to go home is doing good. And if something happened today, I could go home."