MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Henderson Alvarez has risen up Toronto's organization and handled himself on the mound with composure well beyond his 22 years.
His sinker sure helps that confidence.
Alvarez pitched seven strong innings to win his third straight start for the Blue Jays, 6-2 over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night behind 12 ground-ball outs.
"He's very calm and collected out there. He knows how good he is, not in a cocky sense but in how to attack the game and attack hitters and know that he can throw that ball up there and miss spots and still get ground balls," catcher J.P. Arencibia said. "I think he's mature beyond his age, and he's getting better with every start."
Alvarez (3-2) stretched his scoreless streak to 17 innings before second baseman Kelly Johnson's throwing error allowed the Twins to score an unearned run in the third. Josh Willingham hit a home run in the sixth, but the 22-year-old Venezuelan didn't give up any more than that. He allowed seven hits and three walks while striking out two.
"He knows he's got a good defense behind him, and they're making all the plays," said Alvarez's interpreter, Luis Rivera.
Yunel Escobar scored three times and hit four singles, and Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie each drove in two runs against Jason Marquis (2-2), the second veteran Twins starter in two nights to complete only four innings - following Carl Pavano's early exit. Marquis allowed seven hits and six runs - five earned - while walking three and striking out two.
Coming off his first career shutout last week against the Los Angeles Angels, Alvarez got the Twins to hit ground ball after ground ball just when he needed it. They hit into three double plays and almost had a fourth, but Johnson's wild relay after the shortstop Escobar bobbled a grounder hit right at him wiped that one out.
Alvarez helped himself, too, on a scorcher sent back to the mound by Doumit in the second. Alvarez reached down to grab it like a hockey goalie in one smooth scoop and turned to throw for the out as Doumit tossed his bat toward the dugout in frustration.
"Really, he kept control of the game. He might not have been as sharp as his last time out, but just a solid effort by him overall," manager John Farrell said.
Alvarez made his debut with the Blue Jays last year, getting 10 starts down the stretch after beginning the season in Class A.
"He trusts his infielders, trusts the defense, and we're able to keep the game crisp when he's on the mound," Farrell said.
The Twins' majors-worst record fell to 8-23, and this was another wince-worthy performance. No sequence was more exemplary of a sputtering team than in the fourth inning, when Encarnacion hit a seemingly harmless two-out pop-up in front of the plate with two runners on.
Catcher Ryan Doumit never saw it, as if the ball were lost in the faded beige roof the Twins used to play under at the Metrodome before they moved to the open air at Target Field. Marquis crept forward, looking like he figured Doumit would take it - until realizing otherwise and losing track of it himself. Marquis hustled toward the ball was close to position for the catch until hesitating at the last second, when he heard someone else call for it. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe had a late break on the ball but told manager Ron Gardenhire he should've caught it.
"When it rains it pours," Doumit said, "and it's pouring right now."
The ball fell between them and bounced on the grass as Escobar raced home to stretch the lead to 6-1.
"It's not one's person's fault. It's a team effort, and we've got to get better at our jobs," Marquis said.
NOTES: The Blue Jays have won 11 of their last 13 games against the Twins, dating to 2010. ... Twins RH P.J. Walters, the latest reinforcement from Triple-A Rochester, will start Saturday night. He said his family was scrambling to make travel arrangements to watch his debut. LF Darin Mastroianni, the other call-up in the latest set of moves, will have to wait a little bit for his loved ones to arrive. His younger brother is graduating from Brevard College in North Carolina this weekend. "That kind of supersedes this, with Mother's Day coming up," Mastroianni said. Both Walters and Mastroianni were with the Blue Jays for one game last year.
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