Yonder Alonso settling in defensively

SAN DIEGO -- Padres rookie first baseman Yonder Alonso is having a strong debut campaign at the plate, settling into the heart of the San Diego order and leading all Major League rookies with 29 doubles. But his defense starred alongside his bat in Friday's 3-1 win over the Mets, as the 25-year-old dug out several tough throws in crucial situations.

One of those situations came in the ninth inning, when another pretty good corner infielder, third baseman Chase Headley, barehanded a slow roller off the bat of Jason Bay and fired low to Alonso. Alonso picked it on a short hop to change the complexion of the inning entirely, something manager Bud Black definitely noticed.

"Chase had to make a very good play on Bay's ball in the ninth, but Yonder, if he doesn't pick it, here comes the tying run to the plate," Black said.

That play, and others like it in recent weeks, show just how much the youngster has grown in his first 100 games: The success he's had recently is a far cry from a shaky first couple months in which he accumulated the lion's share of his eight errors.

"You wipe out the first six weeks, he's played really solid defense," Black said. "I think in April and early May there are some things he would definitely want to do over. ... He's been much more fundamentally sound around the bag. ... He is much improved."

Alonso has worked with third-base coach Glenn Hoffman on picking those short hops, and has also shown significant improvement in his awareness around the bag, as evidenced by his quick retreat to first prior to a Chris Denorfia throw from right field Friday night. Improvements like those, Blacks says, are just as important as Alonso's continuing development as a big league hitter.

"Defense at first base is, for me, underrated. It is a crucial position defensively," Black said. "If you have a defensive first baseman, it is a huge advantage. And if he can hit and play defense? Boy, is that a bonanza."

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