Yonder Alonso eager to make up for lost time

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After a promising rookie season in 2012, Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso essentially fell off the radar a year ago, the victim of a fractured right hand in May that never really healed until the season was over.

Alonso doesn't blame fans in the least if they've forgotten about him.

"To the fans, I don't blame them," Alonso said. "I was gone for something like half the year, really. It was a frustrating season for me."

That might be putting it mildly.

Coming off a rookie season in which he clubbed 39 doubles, Alonso appeared well on his way to a strong second season with the Padres, hitting .284 with six home runs in his first 190 at-bats of the '13 season before a May 31 game against the Blue Jays at Petco Park.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup hit Alonso with a pitch atop his right hand. He left with a fractured metacarpal bone and missed the next 34 games.

"That was really unfortunate for him, because he was starting to get it," said Padres manager Bud Black. "I think we all felt there was room for offensive improvement, and he was showing that."

The 26-year-old returned on July 12, but it was evident to him that he hadn't fully regained the strength in the hand. Then, on Aug. 30, Alonso injured the hand again while trying to check his swing. As it turned out, that would be his last plate appearance of the season. After hitting six home runs early, he didn't have any after he returned.

That's not to say he didn't push himself to get back on the field -- even if hand wasn't anywhere near full strength.

"There was a sense of urgency for me to get my health in place," Alonso said. "But I was good enough to play. The season takes a toll on you, and it ended up being something I couldn't handle. I competed. Was I 100 percent? No way. I felt I still needed to go out and play."

This spring, Alonso is determined to not just make up for lost time, but to continue his development as a hitter. Or, in his words, become a "smarter hitter."

"I think I became a smarter hitter during my injury. I had to really focus on my plan and my approach. I became a better hitter with my hand and my eyes," he said. "Now, I'm doing to drive the ball into the gaps, make the pitcher work and see a lot of pitches. If I do that, I'm doing my job."

Hitting coach Phil Plantier has seen Alonso make inroads with his swing. The next part, of course, is the mental side of hitting, an evolving process that is truly at-bat to at-bat.

"Part of that maturity process is not giving at-bats away; having a plan at the plate, being consistent and knowing what he wants to do before he gets in the box," Plantier said. "I think he understands that his next step is being more consistent in terms of putting his plan to work. And he needs to be stubborn with it."

Alonso continues to be asked about power and where that fits in his game. The most home runs he had during a single season were 15 in 2010 while in the Reds' system. He had nine in the big leagues during his first season with the Padres and was well on his way to surpassing that when he got hurt in 2013.

"We don't need for Yonder to hit 30 home runs for us to be a better ballclub," Plantier said. "I think we just need him to be himself; be a good hitter first, have that doubles mentality and let the power come naturally. He's got to be a consistent force somewhere in the middle of the lineup for us."

That said, Alonso thinks there's more power in his game than he's shown.

"You need to be realistic with yourself," Alonso said. "I have power, plenty of it. [Home runs] are going to come. It will be fine."

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