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Pete Alonso's selectivity at the plate key to early-season success

Pete Alonso of the Mets celebrates his fifth-inning

Pete Alonso of the Mets celebrates his fifth-inning home run against the Nationals with teammate Francisco Lindor at Citi Field on Sunday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Pete Alonso’s massive 439-foot home run to the left of the Home Run Apple in centerfield at Citi Field on Sunday no doubt made the highlight shows.

What didn’t make it were his two previous times up, when Alonso drew walks against Nationals lefthander Patrick Corbin.

In 2020, pitchers knew they could get Alonso to chase balls out of the strike zone. Alonso’s mantra this spring training was to lay off those pitches so hurlers would have to come in to him.

In 2021, so far, so good.

"In ’19, when we all witnessed what he did with that record-setting year that [he] had, he’s that same hitter that we’re seeing," manager Luis Rojas said after the Mets’ 4-0 victory. "He’s just quiet. Not trying to do too much. I described those first two at-bats when he walked — that’s his approach. He is just quiet and ready for the pitch that he crushes. He doesn’t go outside of that. Last year, we would see that he would scatter a little bit with his swing decision."

Or, as J.D. Davis put it: "He’s been the old Pete."

The "old" Pete was the NL Rookie of the Year Pete who, in 2019, hit .260 with a .941 OPS and rookie-record 53 home runs.

The 2020 Pete slipped to a .231 batting average, an .817 OPS and 16 home runs in 57 games.

The current Pete is batting .267 with a .907 OPS and five home runs in 17 games.

"This year," Rojas said, "this is the Pete that we know. He looks real comfortable at the plate."

Going into Monday’s day off, Alonso was leading MLB in average exit velocity at 98.6 miles per hour. It’s been difficult for the Mets to get into a groove because of their multiple postponements because of COVID-19 and weather issues, and having days off this week on Monday and Thursday may not be the best thing.

"I’m just ready to attack the meat of the schedule," Alonso said. "The start was really tough. Because of the stop-and-go nature of it, it’s been not necessarily a true baseball schedule. Whatever we went through, it was kind of tough to get our momentum and have it go continuously. But now I feel like we’re at a critical point where, as we get into the meat of the season, I’m really excited."

Alonso’s quest to lay off pitches outside the strike zone may seem simple. But pitchers get paid to make those offerings oh so tantalizing.

Think it’s easy? Try keeping a bowl of your biggest weakness — potato chips, popcorn, Gummi Bears, whatever it might be — on your desk for your entire workday. Then try to not eat any.

It’s not easy. But Alonso understands that if he lays off those tempting bad pitches, it allows him to use his legs more to generate power when the ball gets in his happy zone.

"I feel like I am being able to use my legs a little bit more," he said. "It’s because I am a little bit more relaxed and, also, I am sticking to my game plan and swinging at quality pitches. Being in my legs is a product of making quality swing decisions and staying within my zone. If I am swinging at balls in the dirt, there is no way I am going to stay in my legs. If I am swinging at balls over my head, there is no way I am going to be able to use my body and put good, quality swings on the ball. So I feel like pitch selection is real huge regarding my success so far early in the year."

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