A couple of hours before Tuesday’s start against the Washington Nationals, Venezuelan-born Henderson Alvarez was lounging on one of the cozy couches in the clubhouse and watching the television with interest as Poland and Russia battled it out in Euro 2012 soccer action.
The seemingly serene disposition of the 22-year-old would soon be put to the test by a group of hungry free swingers that make up the Nationals lineup, to the point where Alvarez must have regretted having to get up and go to work.
Alvarez wasn’t bad as much as the Nationals were persistent and opportunistic, riding a trio of home run balls for a 4-2 victory over a Toronto Blue Jays team that continues to stub its toe when confronted by National League competition.
The win for Washington (37-23) was its fourth in a row to continue its hold on first place in the National League East. The loss for the Blue Jays (31-31) was their second in succession and fifth in their last six outings.
It also dipped Toronto’s record this season in interleague play to 3-5 with Washington going for the series sweep Wednesday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
Rookie Bryce Harper, who had three hits in Monday’s win, continued to prove he is worth all the acclaim flowing his way, blasted his seventh home run of the season off Alvarez in the third inning that provided the Nationals with a 1-0 lead.
“He’s hit every pitch we’ve thrown at him,” Farrell said of the 19-year-old rookie. “Whether it’s been left-handed fastballs, breaking balls, right-handed breaking balls, changeups, fastballs.
“He’s an impressive hitter, an impressive player.”
An inning later, Alvarez served up another, this time a two-run shot to Danny Espinosa, that extended Washington’s lead to 3-0.
Both of the home runs came off first-pitch offerings from Alvarez as Toronto lost for the sixth straight time in games he has started..
Just after the game began, the Blue Jays announced that Brandon Morrow, their solid starter who injured himself in the first inning of Monday’s game, would be going on the 15-day disabled list, effective Wednesday.
The Blue Jays said that additional testing confirmed their original fears -- that Morrow did indeed suffer a strain of the left oblique muscle and will be out of the lineup for an indefinite period.
The Blue Jays said a counter move will be made on Wednesday to add another warm body to the 25-man roster, and the two leading candidates are Jesse Chavez and left-hander Brett Cecil, who are both currently on Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas.
It is doubtful that whoever comes up replaces Morrow will be able to pitch with the same dominance that Morrow has exhibited this year in compiling a 7-2 record with a 3.01 earned run average.
With Toronto still within sniffing distance of first place in the American League East, general manager Alex Anthopoulos contends it is still a bit early in the season to consider making a trade for a proven starter to ensure the team’s competitive balance.
“It’s June so I think once we get to July it’ll really start to get going,” Anthopoulos said of any trade talk. “I think slowly preliminary dialogue will start now that the draft is over. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Toronto hitters weren’t able to do much with Washington starter Chien-Ming Wang, the former 19-game winner for the New York Yankees who was cruising along with just two hits allowed heading into the fifth inning.
That’s where Jose Bautista put a charge into a 3-1 offering that quickly landed in the seats beyond left field, his 18th home run of the season, a two-run shot that trimmed the lead to 3-2.
It was the Blue Jays fourth hit of the game and they would finish with only five.
There was action in the Toronto bullpen but manager John Farrell decided to stick with Alvarez for one more inning.
The move backfired as Alvarez gave up a solo home run shot in the seventh to Jhonatan Solano, his first in the Major Leagues, that provided Washington with an important insurance marker.