Pete Alonso wants to play first base for Mets, not be DH
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Buck Showalter’s lineup against the Astros on Friday night had Pete Alonso at designated hitter and Dominic Smith at first base.
If any eyebrows were raised, they should be immediately lowered. Even if Smith hits enough to garner more playing time than expected in 2022, Showalter put to bed any idea that he is considering Alonso for extended designated hitter duty this season — something that has to make the DH-loathing Alonso happy.
“He hasn’t expressed it [to me],” Showalter said of Alonso’s desire to not be a DH. “I’ll listen to him. But he knows he’s our first baseman and if we do that, it’s just for a leg [rest] thing.”
Alonso and Smith both went 0-for-3 with a walk in the Mets’ 2-1 loss.
In the waning days of last season — when it wasn’t clear who the Mets’ manager would be in 2022 or if the National League would adopt the DH as part of the new collective bargaining agreement — Alonso made no bones about his plans to be a full-time player.
“I’m a really good first baseman with potential to win a Gold Glove,” he said. “I would be selling myself short to label myself as [a DH]. If I need to DH maybe one day or if someone needs to rotate in, that’s fine. But I’m a first baseman. I don’t think I’ll ever think of myself as a DH.”
Showalter agrees that Alonso is improving as a defender.
“He’s getting better and better every year,” he said. “Takes a lot of pride in it. Some guys just say, ‘Hey, I hit 40, 50 [home runs].’ He wants to be as good as he can be. He works hard at it. He wants to be good. You get a lot of first basemen who catch a ball and take a short hop. It’s their ability to throw that separates them. Pete’s really been working on that.”
In 2020, when the NL had the DH as part of the pandemic-shortened season, Alonso started 17 times at the spot and 38 times at first. As the DH, he hit .203 with a .715 OPS. As a first baseman, he hit .247 with an .870 OPS.
Showalter said he chose a road spring training game for Alonso’s DH day because the slugger lives close to the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, as does Francisco Lindor, who also made the trip to face the Astros.
“The reason we did it today is I want Pete to get four, five at-bats,” Showalter said. “I didn’t want him to be on the field for all those. Plus he lives 10 minutes from here. Lindor lives real close by, too. Works out good. Usually, guys like them usually don’t have gray [road] pants in their locker. With them living over here, it’s actually easier for them. Like the other night, Lindor’s in bed before we get back to the complex.”
The other part of the equation is Smith, who was one of the best hitters on the club in 2020 (.993 OPS) and much less than that in 2021 (.667 OPS). Smith revealed when camp opened that he played with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder last season.
Smith doesn’t have a regular role, but he fits into the DH jumble along with Robinson Cano, J.D. Davis and Alonso. But the last one apparently will be only when Showalter wants to give Alonso a partial day off and use the defensively superior Smith at first.
“I think the need — if Pete needs a day off his legs, I’d probably put Dom over there,” Showalter said. “So it’s a great luxury to have.”