TORONTO -- An adjustment to Henderson Alvarez's mechanics helped the second-year pitcher regain some of his early season form on Tuesday night.
When Alvarez is at his best, he keeps the ball down and consistently pounds the zone with his sinker/changeup combination. Far too often in the past couple of months, though, he has struggled with overall command and opposing hitters have aggressive attacked some of the mislocated pitches.
Alvarez rectified that problem for at least one outing with seven quality innings, but he still came out on the wrong end after being outdueled by Jose Quintana in a 3-2 loss to the White Sox on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.
"I'm pleased with the way I pitched tonight," Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera.
"I was more consistent with my pitches. All of my pitches were down and I was pitching in and out. I was throwing more on the corners tonight."
The Blue Jays discovered a small flaw in Alvarez's delivery and opted to make a couple of minor adjustments between starts. Pitching coach Bruce Walton felt Alvarez had a tendency to over-rotate his shoulder during the wind-up which was causing problems with location.
Walton then worked with Alvarez during a bullpen session on keeping his left shoulder more aligned with the plate instead of twisting his body as much as before. The goal was to keep Alvarez's hand out front on a more regular basis and improve not only the command but the downward action to his sinker.
That appeared to work against the White Sox as Alvarez followed up a five-walk performance against Oakland by not issuing a single free pass. It was his first start without a walk since June 30 against the Angels.
"They talked to me about the reason why I was opening up when I was delivering the pitch to the plate, because I was turning my body way too much and when I turned, my shoulder was opening up," Alvarez said. "So, they worked with me in the cage to try [to keep] my left shoulder more closed and be more on the plate.
"I did that tonight, I felt great tonight and that's probably why I was throwing the ball downhill and more consistent in the strikezone."
Alvarez surrendered three runs on seven hits while striking out two. The strong outing was the third consecutive start Alvarez has allowed three runs or fewer, which marks the first time he has accomplished that feat since early May.
All of the damage against Alvarez occurred during a problematic fifth inning. The second-year hurler had been staked to an early 2-0 lead but was unable to close the door on Chicago's offense. With runners on first and second and two outs, Alvarez allowed an RBI single to center fielder Alejando De Aza.
Dewayne Wise then followed with an RBI single to tie the game. Alvarez had another opportunity to close out the inning with Alex Rios at the plate but instead became his own worst enemy. Alvarez made an errant throw on a pickoff attempt at first base, allowing De Aza to easily score from third base for what would become the game-winning run.
Despite the one poor inning, everything else went according to plan.
"He had more depth to his slider than he's had, I thought he had more separation with the velocity of his changeup and his fastball," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said of Alvarez, who threw just 84 pitches. "A combination of a couple of things, but he forced their aggressiveness, too, by being on the plate so early in the count."
Alvarez likely deserved a better fate but didn't receive much support thanks to the performance of Quintana. Toronto's offense did manage to get on the board early with an RBI single by Yunel Escobar in the first and an eventual run in the third after a leadoff double by Rajai Davis.
But that was it for the Blue Jays as Quintana cruised through most of his outing. He was relieved in the bottom of the seventh with a pair of runners on base but right-hander Brett Myers came on to retire Edwin Encarnacion. Quintana was charged with just the two runs on eight hits while striking out four over 6 2/3 innings en route to his second consecutive quality start.
With the exception of a 15-inning game on Aug. 3, the Blue Jays have scored three runs or fewer in all but two of their games this month. The main reason for that on Tuesday night was the lack of execution with runners on base. Toronto stranded nine baserunners and managed to go just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
"I feel good, I've definitely never pitched this many innings but it's one of those things -- my arm feels good and I'm putting in the work and I feel that I can definitely go the distance," Quintana said.
The Blue Jays missed an opportunity to win three consecutive games for the first time since July 26-28. They've still managed to win 12 of their past 20 games against Chicago and will look to improve on that mark during the final two of a four-game set at Rogers Centre.