Pirates sticking with Pedro Alvarez

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pedro Alvarez will remain the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting third baseman, despite a deep batting slump that began last season and has carried over into spring training.

In Grapefruit League play, Alvarez is hitting .133 and has struck out in 13 of 30 at-bats.

However, two of his four hits were home runs, and general manager Neal Huntington cast aside the notion that Alvarez might not break camp with the Pirates.

"The rumors of him starting at Triple-A have never come from the Pirates," Huntington said. "It's been outside speculation. It's not what we've thought (of doing). We asked him to do some things coming into spring training and he's done those. He's going through a tough stretch right now.

"Are we going to be able to get him out of it? We believe we will."

Last season, Alvarez hit .191 with four homers and was limited to 74 games due to a quadriceps injury. He has missed the past three spring training games with what the team has called "minor irritation" in his left knee, but he is expected to be back in action this week.

Although the Pirates urged him to play winter ball this past offseason, Alvarez instead worked out on his own with a trainer in California.

"I have a little more flexibility in my swing," he said, "and I'm able to stay through some balls and let the ball get deep."

Alvarez also added a toe tap to his swing as a timing mechanism, and has admitted it's taken a while to feel comfortable with the new mechanics.

"He uses it to gather himself, get himself in a position where he feels athletic," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "When that front foot hits the ground, he needs to be in a good foundation, with his hands in a strong position, to get to the ball and stay through it."

Alvarez was drafted second overall in 2008 and received a four-year, $6.355 million contract with a $6 million signing bonus. He made his big league debut in 2010 and hit .256 with 16 home runs in 74 games.

Huntington indicated Alvarez would benefit more from remaining in the majors as an everyday player than by going back to Triple-A.

"There are times when guys are able to get away with flaws at Triple-A that they can't get away with at the major league level," Huntington said. "He may be one of those guys. There are guys who are tremendous Triple-A performers and they need to learn and adjust at the major league level. We can't put too much stock in Triple-A performance, good or bad, or spring training performance, good or bad."

A left-handed batter, Alvarez has a career .211 batting average against lefty pitchers. The Pirates are slated to face several tough southpaws in the first two weeks of the season, which could put Alvarez on the bench.

"While I don't anticipate a platoon setting," Huntington said, "we may protect some of our young left-handed hitters against the likes of (Los Angeles' Clayton) Kershaw, (Philadelphia's Cliff) Lee and (San Francisco's Madison) Bumgarner."

The Pirates, who opened up 4-2 and 9-7 last season, are hoping for a strong start this time around, as well, though the schedule is not kind. In the season's first three weeks, the Pirates play the last two World Series champions -- San Francisco and St. Louis -- and they open the season with three games at home vs. the Phillies.