BALTIMORE -- Henderson Alvarez is one of those rare hard-throwing right-handers who often doesn't have the ability to strike anybody out.
The second-year hurler throws a mid-90s sinker and when necessary can dial it up to 98 mph. That type of velocity usually lends itself to a high number of strikeouts, but in Alvarez's case, the lack of consistent secondary pitches has often caused problems.
An improved changeup has helped change those results of late, and it was on display again on Monday afternoon, but a lack of run support ultimately led to a 4-1 loss to the Orioles at Camden Yards.
"The adjustment that he's made with his changeup, that has been the swing-and-miss pitch," manager John Farrell said. "He has located his fastball, I think, more consistently, and he has been able to go to that changeup to both righties and lefties for some bottoming-out action. Just by the aggressiveness, it has added better action to it and the swing-and-miss ability."
Alvarez entered play on Monday with the lowest strikeout-per-nine-inning rate in the American League. He's managed to strike out just 3.54 batters per nine innings this season, but there have been signs of improvement lately -- even if the sample size is still small.
Following a six-strikeout performance against Baltimore, Alvarez has now recorded 13 K's over his past 12 2/3 innings. The numbers correlate to a recent string of solid starts as Alvarez attempts to finish an inconsistent season on a strong note.
Alvarez began his outing against Baltimore on a streak of three consecutive quality starts. That was one off his season high during a stretch of games from April 24-May 10, and the main reason for the recent turnaround has been the refined approach to the changeup.
"The difference has been that I've been more aggressive with the changeup," Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "Earlier in the year, I was just taking speed off the changeup without being aggressive. Even though I'm throwing the changeup a little harder now, I'm throwing it with better arm speed, and that has been the difference."
Alvarez was relatively strong again on Monday, but a few key mistakes ultimately led to his undoing. He got through the first three innings unscathed but encountered some difficulty in the fourth.
The 22-year-old walked the first batter he faced, and then served up a 1-1 changeup to Adam Jones that hung in the middle of the plate. Jones crushed it to deep left field for his 32nd homer of the year, which gave Baltimore an early 2-0 lead.
The long ball caught up to Alvarez again in the fifth as Ryan Flaherty sent a 1-0 offering over the wall in center for a solo homer. Alvarez came back out for the sixth but then proceeded to load the bases and, after surrendering another run, he was pulled from the game in favor of lefty Brett Cecil.
Home runs have continued to plague Alvarez this season. He entered the game having surrendered 26 this season, which was tied for eighth-worst in the American League. The vast majority of those homers have come on hanging sliders or sinkers that didn't break, but that wasn't the case vs. Baltimore.
"Jones' pitch was a high changeup," said Alvarez, who allowed eight hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. "He's a good hitter, and he did what he's supposed to do with that pitch. The other one, the second baseman, I thought it was a good pitch, and he put a good swing on it."
Alvarez did manage to keep the game mostly in check, but that seemed to matter very little as Toronto's offense remained stagnant at the plate. Right-hander Steve Johnson pitched five scoreless innings and allowed just three hits while walking three and striking out six.
The Blue Jays did eventually manage to get on the board in the eighth on an RBI double by Rajai Davis. That snapped a streak of 17 consecutive innings without a run dating back to the eighth inning of Saturday's 11-5 loss to Tampa Bay.
But the rally proved to be too little, too late for the Blue Jays as Kelly Johnson struck out to end the frame with a pair of runners in scoring position. The opposing manager didn't seem all that impressed with their production.
"What, did they hit a swinging bunt and a jam shot?" Orioles skipper Buck Showalter said in reference to reliever Tommy Hunter's performance. "It was unfortunate. Darren [O'Day] came in and got a big out against a guy with some pop there."
Toronto has now matched a season-high seven-game losing streak. The club has managed to average just 2.43 runs per game over that span and also has lost nine of its past 11 games overall.