WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.
Pete Alonso again showed why he’s a quick learner at the plate, but for a destroyer of baseballs, he doesn’t seem to know his own strength.
Facing the Astros’ Jose Hernandez on Monday, Alonso choked up on the bat with two strikes — as he always does — and launched a sky-high drive toward the left-centerfield gap.
Alonso’s first thought was about Tony Kemp patrolling the area, and the memory of Kemp climbing fences to rob others for Triple-A Fresno last season.
“I was praying it would go,” Alonso said. “But I’m like, God no, please, Tony, don’t catch it.”
First off, Kemp is listed at 5-7. The only way anyone was getting his glove on Alonso’s blast was if Shaquille O'Neal had been wearing an Astros uniform — as well as a jet pack.
When Alonso barrels up a pitch like that and it reaches that kind of height, the ball seems as if it will never come down. All Kemp could do was give a halfhearted lunge into the wall as the drive landed halfway up the grassy berm.
Alonso’s second homer in seven Grapefruit League games helped the Mets beat the Astros, 7-4, at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. And his fourth-inning RBI double, also with two strikes, was hit with equal if not greater force. He is hitting .412 (7-for-17).
Alonso doing damage is fun to watch, but the most impressive thing about this performance was the two-strike situational hitting. On the double, he was down 0-and-2 in the count before turning on a cut fastball.
“For me, I’m a big guy, so what I want to do well is feel like I’m dangerous in every count,” he said. “I want to feel the ground underneath me. I want to feel like no matter what count I’m in, I can still get a good A-swing off.”
Alonso’s in-game preparation starts long before he steps to the plate. As Travis d’Arnaud tells it, Alonso is constantly chatting up teammates in the dugout for their observations.
“He’s capable of doing a lot,” d’Arnaud said. “Y’all talk about all his power, but he’s actually a really smart hitter, too.”
And the hard two-strike contact?
“On the nose,” d’Arnaud said. “And he didn’t overswing either, which is really impressive for a young guy. He just stayed short, stayed within himself and stayed with his approach.”
Alonso is playing like a highly motivated prospect determined to win the Opening Day job at first base, and in a perfect world, these early results would be steering him toward that March 28 start against the Nationals in Washington. But there are other factors involved, such as delaying his promotion until late April for service-time purposes, and the resurgence of Dominic Smith could make it easier for the Mets to do just that.
Alonso entered camp as the favorite, with general manager Brodie Van Wagenen insisting that if he rightfully earned the job, he would make the team out of Port St. Lucie regardless of the service-time situation.
The Mets’ decision-makers probably didn’t figure Smith would seriously push him for the spot, but that’s what has happened. Smith had two hits, including a double, and an RBI in Monday’s split-squad game against the Red Sox at First Data Field. He is 10-for-20 with a homer and six RBIs.
“I see a lot more energy out of Dom,” Mickey Callaway said. “He did a great job this offseason getting himself where he needs to be physically, and it’s paying off. Even in the dugout, I see a live guy. I think it’s paying dividends right now.”
As far as Alonso knows, this is supposed to be a competition, not an excuse to stash him at Triple-A Syracuse for two weeks or so to gain an extra year of team control. And he’s going to treat it that way, especially as the friendly competition with Smith heats up.
“Both of us are trying to make a team,” Alonso said. “Simple as that. Good competition breeds the best out of all players. I’m happy he’s having a good spring. I don’t want anyone to do bad. I like Dom. I think he’s a pretty cool guy. I want him to play well.”
Alonso won’t say it, but he’s confident enough to believe that he’ll play better.