Hand, body, soul: Yonder Alonso feeling good

PEORIA, Ariz. — Power will come in time.

At least, that is what they say, although Yonder Alonso looked like he might trump one of those axioms that hitting coaches hold so dear last year.

Eighteen homers and 87 RBIs? At Petco Park?

The numbers that Alonso was tracking in his second full season certainly fit the bill of a middle-of-the-order first baseman. Then he took a pitch off his right hand at the end of May, missed a month with a broken metacarpal bone and never really recovered the hand strength he needed to punish “his” pitches upon his return.

“It’s like, your hand was very soft, very weak; it felt like you just had tissue there,” Alonso said. “There was no muscle tone in your hands. There was no quickness. You couldn’t control the bat or the barrel with your hand. I knew I couldn’t swing at certain pitches because I was hurt or because I knew I wasn’t quick enough.

“But believe it or not, I became a better hitter because of it.”

The book is still out on that.

One thing’s for certain, though: Alonso has arrived at the Peoria Sports Complex ready to take the next step in his career.

The hand, he said, is 100 percent healthy after an offseason of rest and work with a specialist and Alonso is in camp fitter and trimmer than ever before, thanks in large part to a small army that includes a personal chef, masseuse, yoga instructor and various physical therapists and trainers.

Whether or not that translates into developing into a masher in the middle of a lineup is beside the point, he said, so long as the Padres find a way to contend.
“I really don’t put that pressure on me to hit home runs,” Alonso said. “At the end of the day, you’re trying to be the best you can be. The sport is not all about home runs. You have to do many other things other than home runs to be a good teammate, a good player, and for me, home runs is just one big number.”
Just not one big number for Alonso – yet.

The 26-year-old Cuban never hit more than a 15 homers during a minor league season and topped out at nine the one year he played a full season in the majors, although half of those games were played in cavernous Petco Park in 2012.

But a career .840 OPS in the minors reveals a hitter who takes his walks and drives the ball, over the wall or not, and the Padres were beginning to see a semblance of that player materialize in San Diego.

He set the franchise’s rookie record with 39 doubles in 2012 upon joining the team as part of the five-player trade that set Mat Latos to Cincinnati and pushed his on-base percentage 75 points higher than his respectable .273 average.

Only the next step – Alonso had nearly as many homers (six) as doubles (seven) when he first injured his hand – didn’t go as planned after a fast start to 2013. Even after resting his hand for a month, Alonso watched his slugging percentage plummet from .416 to .306 after breaking his hand before the Padres ultimately shut him down in September.

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