SAN DIEGO — Pete Alonso needed a break, and a slew of Mets made it happen for him Monday.
First, there was J.D. Davis, who started at first base for only the ninth time in his major-league career. There was third-base coach Joey Cora, who took Davis under his tutelage for a little over a week. There was Taijuan Walker, whose big hands helped break in Davis’ too-new first-base glove. Even bullpen coach Eric Langill got in on the action, using that same glove to play catch with whatever pitchers happened to be around.
“I’m a little new,” Davis allowed before the Mets were set to take on the Padres at Petco Park, “but I said I could catch the ball and do my part.”
And doing his part is the name of the game right now. Even more than Davis’ proficiency at first base — asked how prepared he was, Buck Showalter said he thought the career third baseman would be pretty good, but he wouldn’t really know until a ball came that way — Monday’s start at the position indicated the collaborative effort that’s helped the Mets routinely survive the numerous staffing challenges that have cropped up this season. The latest issue: They needed pitching, and that meant that their regular backup first baseman, Dominic Smith, was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse last week.
But Alonso, undoubtedly the team’s MVP so far this season, has played in all 57 of the team’s games this year (he was the DH Monday), with 42 at first base. With a taxing day on the basepaths the night before, Showalter thought it was time to give him a break. Mark Canha has experience at first base, and the Mets could use Eduardo Escobar in a pinch, but Davis is an intriguing option, if he proves capable. Though his major-league experience is largely at third and in left, he spent some time at first in college and in the minors. Pivotally, using him there gives the Mets more flexibility as they try to keep his big righty bat in the lineup: Going into Monday, Davis was batting .371 with six runs four doubles, four RBIs and two walks in his previous 10 games.
“I know J.D. is looking forward to the opportunity because it presents another way to help the team,” Showalter said. “I’m going to be surprised if he’s not capable at some point. It may not be tonight. If there’s a need the team has with Pete, then we’re going to look at J.D. over there. He surprised me. I know he’s going to try real hard. That’s for sure.”
The shortened spring training meant Davis didn’t get quite as many reps at first base as either he or Showalter would have liked, but Davis, if not fully experienced, is at least game to try it out.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” he said. “It’s not something crazy. It’s not catcher or shortstop or centerfield or something like that. I’ve just got to go out there and do my part and play catch. That’s the only thing I can do.”
It’s clear, though, that the move has less to do with Davis excelling at a new position, and more to do with saving Alonso, who’s been the heartbeat of the Mets’ offense. He entered the game slashing .283/.359/.911 with 16 homers and an MLB-best 54 RBIs. Of the team’s 441 games over his four major-league seasons, Alonso has played in 427 of them.
“We want to keep him [fresh] — he’s had a lot of reps . . . a lot of baserunning, so we’ll see,” Showalter said of Alonso. “Regardless of how it turns out, hopefully Pete will benefit.”