NEW YORK -- Blue Jays manager John Farrell has spoken about the importance of his players finishing the season on a high note, regardless of how well the team is playing collectively.
Henderson Alvarez is doing just that.
The right-hander pitched well enough to win the opener of Wednesday's day-night doubleheader against the Yankees, but Toronto's offense came up short in an eighth-inning rally en route to a 4-2 loss at Yankee Stadium. The Blue Jays put the go-ahead run in scoring position before a bases-loaded rally was cut short, making the Yankees' three-run first inning hold up as the difference.
"You can't say enough; [Alvarez] goes seven innings, gives up three runs, keeps us in the ballgame, we chip away and make things tight in the eighth inning," Farrell said. "But Henderson, once again, he threw a very good changeup, much like he has done the last two times out. A solid outing on his part."
Farrell praised Alvarez's changeup, which he said the 22-year-old is throwing with more conviction. The skipper said it has nothing to with mechanical changes or an alteration to the grip, adding that when Alvarez is throwing the pitch properly, it complements his mid- to upper-90s four-seam fastball and his sinking two-seamer.
A big part of Alvarez's refined changeup has been a boost in the pitch's velocity. Farrell said that when Alvarez is throwing the changeup between 89 and 91 mph, he makes it difficult for hitters to pick up the pitch because it mimics his two-seam fastball but has more bottom-out action.
"I think the way he has aggressively thrown his changeup has been a big contributor to what the numbers have [shown] in the last two starts," Farrell said of Alvarez, who has worked seven innings in each of his past two starts.
Alvarez opened the first inning by surrendering three consecutive hits to Ichiro Suzuki, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano, whose RBI double to center field put the Yankees ahead, 1-0.
A groundout and a sacrifice fly later in the inning gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
But Alvarez settled in after the rocky start, retiring 16 of the next 17 batters he faced into the sixth inning before Cano hit a one-out single to center.
"I never lost the concentration; I stayed focused in the game, and I was keeping the ball down after the first inning," Alvarez said through interpreter Luis Rivera. "It was up a little bit, but after that, I was throwing the ball down. But I kept focus and concentration through the whole game."
Alvarez completed seven innings, allowing three runs on five hits while striking out a career-high seven batters.
The right-hander believes the key was throwing his fastball and changeup with the same arm speed and releasing both pitches from the same arm slot. The strikeouts total indicates to Alvarez that he is doing something right.
"It's important for me, because it makes me think that I'm striking people out because I'm locating my pitches," said Alvarez, who threw his third consecutive quality start. "One of the good reasons I'm making those pitches is being aggressive. If I continue to hit the locations, I'll probably get more strikeouts."
The impressive performance by Alvarez was wasted by a Blue Jays offense that struggled to put together any sort of rally until the eighth inning.
Brett Lawrie led off the frame with a double and reached third on an opposite-field single by Adam Lind that put runners on the corners with no outs. Kelly Johnson, who pinch-hit for Jeff Mathis, drove in Toronto's first run of the game with an RBI single to left before Omar Vizquel passed Babe Ruth on the all-time hits list with a double down the right-field line that scored one and cut New York's lead to 3-2. All the damage was done against David Robertson, who was relieved by closer Rafael Soriano.
Soriano walked Anthony Gose to load the bases, but Toronto's rally fell short when Rajai Davis knocked a hard-hit line drive to Ichiro in left field for the third out of the inning.
Vizquel had tied Ruth on the all-time hits list with a fourth-inning single to right field. The 24-year veteran now sits alone in 41st place with 2,874 career hits.
"Not only [did it] increase where he stands on the overall hit category, but big hits inside of a game to not only drive in runs [and] make things interesting, and, once again, that was the case today," Farrell said of Vizquel.
Toronto put the leadoff man on in the third, sixth and seventh innings but couldn't capitalize against a collection of Yankees pitchers, including starter Andy Pettitte.
Pettitte, who made his first start since June 27 due to a fractured left fibula, threw five scoreless innings of four-hit ball. The lefty walked two, struck out three and threw 46 of his 75 pitches for strikes.
"I was able to get through it and make pitches when I had to to get out of some innings," said Pettitte, who improved to 4-3. "I didn't feel like my command was as sharp as I would've liked it to be."
The Blue Jays have lost 12 of their last 16 contests at Yankee Stadium.
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.