TORONTO -- The high number of home runs being surrendered continues to be the Achilles' heel for Henderson Alvarez during his sophomore season in the big leagues.
The Blue Jays' right-hander has allowed the most homers in the Major Leagues dating back to May 15, and that problem contributed to a fourth consecutive defeat on Tuesday night.
Alvarez surrendered three home runs to offset a two-run shot by Jose Bautista in the Blue Jays' 4-2 loss to the Nationals on Tuesday night at Rogers Centre.
"He has missed in the middle of the plate," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "When he has missed on the plate, he hasn't gotten away with a mistake. For a ground-ball pitcher it's a high number of home runs at this point."
Alvarez has now surrendered at least one home run in all but two of his 13 starts this season, while three of those were multi-homer games.
A lot of those issues can be traced back to a lack of overall command. The walks haven't been a problem, but command within the strike zone has, and there hasn't been the normal late action to his sinker.
Only one of the home runs hit on Tuesday night came on a sinker, but the disappearance of consistent execution on the pitch has led to problems throughout each one of his recent outings.
"Well, what we've seen is the sinker, particularly to left-handers, where it's got more of a riding action and lateral movement, rather than the downward sink," Farrell said. "When he's pitched on the arm side of the plate, left-handers have stayed out over the plate and looked to take him the other way.
"It's the depth to the sinker -- which is his best pitch -- that has been somewhat inconsistent, and if he's up in the zone a little bit, without that late, hard sinking action, we've seen what's taken place."
The native of Venezuela saw his woes begin in the top of the third inning Tuesday when rookie phenom Bryce Harper sent a first-pitch changeup off the Windows Restaurant in center field. Harper's seventh homer of the season also marked his fifth hit in just six at-bats to start the series against the Blue Jays.
Alvarez's troubles continued in the following frame as he served up yet another home run. This time it came on a first-pitch fastball to second baseman Danny Espinosa for a two-run shot. Espinosa's sixth homer of the season gave Washington a three-run lead.
The final blow against Alvarez occurred in the top of the seventh. Jhonatan Solano recorded his first career homer on a hanging 0-2 slider that was sent into the bullpen in left field. It marked the second time this year Alvarez has surrendered three homers in a game.
"I feel like I'm throwing well, and I just need to continue to keep the ball down," Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "If I continue to keep the ball down, I'm going to get a lot of ground balls and keep the ball out of the air. The main thing is to keep the ball on the ground."
Alvarez was charged with all four runs on nine hits while striking out three in seven innings of work. He has now allowed at least four runs in three of his past four outings, while his ERA over the past six sits at 5.50.
That's a far cry from how Alvarez began the season. He recorded quality starts in seven of his first eight outings of the year, but has just one over his past five.
It has been a long time in between victories, but Alvarez said the lack of positive results aren't affecting his approach on the mound.
"I don't think about that," Alvarez said. "I feel like I'm throwing the ball well. I'm going to continue to pitch, and [the wins] will come.
"I don't feel like I need to change anything. Just try to keep the ball down."
Bautista provided the lone bright spot in an otherwise quiet night at the plate for Toronto's offense. The defending Major League home run champ recorded his 18th of the season with a deep shot to left field on a fifth-inning sinker from right-hander Chien-Ming Wang.
The two-time All-Star would later add a double and continues to be a bright spot in Toronto's lineup, which has struggled to generate any type of offense in recent games. The club has recorded just 10 hits, stranded 13 baserunners and hit 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position in two games against Washington, but Bautista has maintained his production.
"When Jose's at his best, he's not expanding the strike zone where he's not forced to," Farrell said. "I think he has laid off a number of high fastballs, and when he has gotten pitches on the plate, we've seen for a long period of time what he's capable of doing, and that's the situation he's in right now.
"We're seeing a clear understanding of the patterns that are being thrown against him, and he's doing an excellent job of not expanding the strike zone."
Wang was removed after the fifth inning. He was charged with two runs on four hits while walking five and striking out five. Wang snapped a mini two-game losing streak and has now won two of his four outings this year.
He held the Blue Jays scoreless through the first four innings, though he did have to pitch around two walks in the fourth, before allowing Bautista's homer in his final frame of work.
"Wang was better this time out early on, and then in the fourth inning ... he was getting out in front of himself," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
Toronto has lost four of its past five games, and in those losses the offense has failed to score more than three runs per contest. The Blue Jays will have the unenviable task of attempting to avoid a three-game sweep on Wednesday afternoon against the hard-throwing Stephen Strasburg.