For all the hype surrounding Jose Fernandez, Miami's most impressive current pitching statistic might belong to another arm on the staff.
With three shutouts in his last eight starts dating back to last season, Henderson Alvarez takes the mound Sunday in San Diego as the Marlins try to avoid a third straight loss in the series finale with the hot-hitting Padres.Alvarez (2-2, 2.62 ERA) is 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last four starts and has thrown shutouts in both wins. The latest was Tuesday's 3-0 home victory over the New York Mets, in which he surrendered six hits and struck out seven without a walk to become the first pitcher with three shutouts in eight starts since Felix Hernandez did it in five in August 2012."When you see nights like this, you realize this guy has a chance to be really, really good," manager Mike Redmond said. "It just comes down to consistency for him."The other scoreless effort was his Sept. 29 no-hitter, his final start of 2013. The 24-year-old can now match Hernandez's run of four shutouts in nine starts."When you get in a roll, the game moves fast," said Alvarez, who has never faced San Diego. "I was thinking about trying to throw all my pitches down, hitting on my breaking pitches and trying to get the hitters to swing early."He'll face Robbie Erlin (1-4, 4.95), who has no such shutouts to boast, though his last outing was also one of the best of his career.The left-hander held Kansas City to a run on three hits in seven innings without a decision in Tuesday's 3-1 loss. He had lost his previous four starts."That was one of the better ones he's thrown," manager Bud Black told the team's official website. "I think that was the best curveball he's thrown."He could finally be in line for some run support as San Diego (17-21) has totaled 19 runs in back-to-back wins, the most it has scored in consecutive games since Sept. 5-6, 2012, after scoring 17 in its previous nine. The Padres have scored one run for Erlin in three starts, and his 1.73 run-support average would qualify as the worst in baseball if he had the requisite number of innings pitched.Prior to Friday, the Padres hadn't scored more than six runs in a game, but after Saturday's 9-3 win, they're batting .366 in the last two.Seth Smith has led the way with a .556 average in seven games, including six hits -- five for extra bases -- and six RBIs in the last two. He fell a single shy of a cycle Saturday."It's huge to have a couple of wins where you're not stressed about it," Smith said. "You get some runs early, the pitchers are doing well. Just mentally you can kind of cruise to the end."The lineup also got a boost with the return of Chase Headley from the disabled list. The third baseman went 1 for 3 with a three-run homer, two walks and two runs scored.The Marlins (20-17), who are an MLB-worst 3-12 on the road, have been struggling even to make contact in the series with 39 strikeouts in three games. In their last four, they're hitting .163 with eight runs while striking out 49 times."We're still striking out way too much," Redmond said. "We've just got to figure this thing out. We'll come out tomorrow and try to find a way to get a win, whether it's a great pitching performance or a big hit, or a few big hits. That's what we need."Giancarlo Stanton, though, is batting .357 with four homers and 11 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak.