John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Pete Alonso fell behind in the count, 0-2, in the eighth inning Tuesday night, fouling off and then swinging through high fastballs at 98 mph, so the power vs. power showdown seemed to favor Tanner Rainey, a 26-year old rookie called up from the minors a few days ago.
As a National League scout said Wednesday, "I wouldn't have bet on Alonso at that point. Lately he's been getting pitched tougher and he's been chasing up in the zone a little more, which is normal for a young guy when he goes through his first rough patch.
"But I'll tell you, the more I see of him, the more impressed I am, especially in a big spot. He's hit a lot of big home runs in the late innings, and after a while you start to think it's not an accident."
Indeed, there was nothing accidental about what Alonso eventually did against Rainey. After laying off an 0-2 fastball just above the strike zone, no small feat at 98 mph, he took advantage of a mistake pitch, belt-high, middle of the plate, and launched a moon shot well above the left-field foul pole.
The home run not only allowed the Mets to win the game an inning later, it stamped Alonso as hot again, with four home runs in five games, an indication that he's making adjustments to being pitched tougher in recent weeks, after the strikeouts had begun to pile up on him.
In other words: this is more evidence that Alonso is for real, combining a studious approach to the plate, which includes making notations in a notebook about his at-bats after every game, and the raw power that has prompted many a comparison to Mark McGwire.
As such he now has 16 home runs, the most ever by a Mets rookie before the All-Star game. And since less than a third of the season has been played, that total already raises the question of whether Alonso could take down the club's single-season home run record.
The number is 41, shared by Carlos Beltran and Todd Hundley, and while Alonso still has a lot to prove, at the very least I like his chances of setting a new team record at some point in his career.
Whether he can do it in his rookie season depends on his ability to continue adjusting as big-league pitchers probe for weak spots.
In recent weeks it appeared the league was catching up to him, as Alonso's batting average fell from .291 to .258 over 17 days in May, and he struck out 14 times in 15 games.
"They were pitching him in more," another scout said, "and they were finding some holes. He got a little frustrated and started chasing more. It's all part of being a young hitter. The good ones make the adjustments.
"The thing you like about him is that he's got a good approach, he uses the whole field, and he can handle high velocity. The other thing, if you watch some of the home runs he's hit, especially late in games, he seems to have a feel for what a pitcher is trying to do against him, and it looks like he anticipates pitches or location in those situations."
A couple of recent examples that bear out such an observation: Alonso's ninth inning home run in Milwaukee on May 4 that tied a game the Mets lost in 18 innings, and his ninth inning home run in San Diego a few nights later that won the game against the Padres.
Against the Brewers, Alonso jumped on a first-pitch curve ball from reliever Junior Guerra, and drove it to right-center for the game-tying home run.
"You see that and you're thinking, 'what's he doing sitting on a first-pitch curve ball?' " said a scout who was in attendance. "But Guerra had pitched the eighth inning too, and he started off all three hitters he faced with curve balls, so Alonso went up there looking for one and he got it. That's pretty savvy for a young hitter."
Three nights later against the Padres, with a 2-2 count, Alonso turned on an inside fastball and launched a towering home run similar to the one he hit Tuesday night against the Nationals.
It was only a 91-mph fastball, so it's possible Alonso simply reacted in time to pull the ball. But interestingly, Warren had thrown a 2-1 change-up that didn't fool the Mets' first baseman -- he was right on it, took a big swing and fouled it back.
So Warren might well have been thinking that if Alonso was protecting against the change, he could beat him inside. Only he couldn't.
"That's the type of stuff you can't teach a hitter, to think along with a pitcher," one of the scouts said. "You either have a feel for that or you don't. It looks like this kid has it."
And so as the home runs are again starting to come in bunches again for Alonso, the only question is how far it will take him. And how quickly.