PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — On the first pitch of his first at-bat of the Mets’ first Grapefruit League game, Pete Alonso did what he did so often in 2018: blasted a home run.
The next few weeks will be critical for Alonso, who is trying to win the first-base job. Mickey Callaway has said exhibition-game results will matter for Alonso, Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis in determining who gets the Opening Day assignment.
It’s hard to do better than homering on the first pitch, a slider from 22-year-old righthander Touki Toussaint, one of the Braves’ highly touted pitching prospects. (Alonso walked in his second and final plate appearance.)
“We’re called ‘hitters.’ We’re not ‘takers,’ you know?” Alonso said. “If we get a good pitch, might as well take our chance at it.”
He did, smoking a line drive over the elevated camera well in centerfield at First Data Field.
“[Toussaint] tried to throw that first-pitch slider in there, and it would’ve been a quality first-pitch slider for a strike,” Callaway said. “Alonso made him pay for it. We know he can hit a fastball just as good as anybody. If he can show that he can hit that breaking ball too, especially early in the count, it’s going to be tough to pitch to him.”
Said pitcher Hector Santiago, who was warming up in the bullpen when Alonso connected: “I was like, ‘Oh, he got ahold of that one.’ And it went over the camera guy and I was like, ‘Oh, he really got ahold of that one.’ Effortless.”
Alonso already has had a knack for playing in the spotlight (a relative term at this early stage of his career).
In July at the Futures Game, an All-Star exhibition for prospects, he also homered. In the final at-bat of his successful 2018 season and the last at-bat in the history of Las Vegas’ Cashman Field, Alonso hit a walk-off home run for the Mets’ Triple-A team.
In the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game in November, Alonso homered off a 103-mph fastball from Blue Jays prospect Nate Pearson.
And now, in his exhibition debut, Alonso went deep again.
“I love moments. I love being challenged,” he said. “That’s one of the things I take pride in, stepping up and not backing away from a challenge. It’s just one of the things I love. I try to do the best I can if I’m given a situation like that.”
This challenge is as great as any he has faced as a pro. And Saturday wasn’t exactly a perfect day.
The second inning was an adventure at first base. Alonso dropped a throw from shortstop Amed Rosario, who had snared a hard ground ball that deflected off the mound. It was ruled a single for Alex Jackson. “I should have caught it,” Alonso said. “There’s no excuse.”
Cristian Pache then smacked a hard grounder to third, where Davis made a diving stop. Davis’ throw was wide of first, but Alonso reeled it in to avoid an error and momentarily save a run for pitcher Walker Lockett.
Defense matters, said Callaway, who noted that Alonso seemed to be checking the sun.
“We need complete players,” Callaway said. “I know he’s working hard on it.”
The first-base competition is far from decided, but consider Saturday a noteworthy start.
“It’s kind of like a toss-up over there, and I want to be the best I can be,” Alonso said. “I want to be that guy on the Opening Day roster, and there’s other people who want that job too. I need to keep working hard and play well. It’s as simple as that.”