SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After an underwhelming offensive season in 2016, A's first baseman Yonder Alonso is doing his part to correct wrongdoings at the plate, a process that began shortly before he returned home to Miami for the winter."I think he went back and forth on what he wanted to
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After an underwhelming offensive season in 2016, A's first baseman Yonder Alonso is doing his part to correct wrongdoings at the plate, a process that began shortly before he returned home to Miami for the winter.
"I think he went back and forth on what he wanted to do," A's hitting coach Darren Bush said. "I definitely think he can be much better, and I think he has that mindset going into the year. We talked extensively at the end of the year about the adjustments he wanted to make and how we wanted to go about doing them. Now we're starting to see he's feeling much more confident as a hitter and much more disciplined, selective, and that's what we want."
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Alonso's pitch selection admittedly "was a key factor to last year," he said, "so I'm trying to adjust that." On average, he saw just 3.54 pitches per at-bat -- eighth-lowest in the American League -- and although he led the A's with 11.82 plate appearances per walk, it signified regression; just a year before, he drew a walk every 9.57 times he stepped to the plate.
Consequently, Alonso's on-base percentage also fell, to .316, to go along with a .253 average in 156 games while adjusting to a new league. In his four previous seasons with the Padres, he reached base at a .339 clip.
The slip contributed to a glaring team-wide issue: Oakland's on-base mark was a lowly .304 in 2016, worst in the AL. Preaching pitch selectivity to all hitters is thus something "we're pounding down their throats," Bush said.
"Making a physical adjustment against the best pitchers in the world is difficult to do, but there's only a couple of things you can control, and one of them is the pitch you swing at," he continued. "Trust who you are, trust your swing and swing at pitches you can handle. We didn't strike out a lot last year, but we also didn't get on base. That's telling me we're swinging at pitches we shouldn't be swinging at and putting them in play."
Alonso, whose deft defense made up for his offensive shortcomings, was less than thrilled with many of his at-bats last year and felt far too many could be categorized as easy outs. Transforming rollovers into hard outs, he noted, "is all in the mind. Focus, focus, focus. Make sure I'm stubborn and see more pitches until I get one I can handle."
The process of shrinking the strike zone starts with positioning oneself to do so. To that end, Alonso has made a few mechanical adjustments. He's using his legs better, allowing him to be more direct to the ball, and his swing is shorter, quicker and more fluid.
Alonso smacked an opposite-field homer during his first week of spring action, and he already has reached base eight times in 16 plate appearances, including two hits in Tuesday's game. He'll enter the regular season in a platoon at first with Ryon Healy.
"He's got a lot of untapped power, and he's starting to realize how to actually use the power. It's not a matter of swinging harder, it's not a matter of trying to elevate, it's just a matter of letting your body be in position with a swing," Bush said, "He's starting to understand how to execute his swing better than he has in the past.
"He's realizing [he] can be better, and he's willing to make the adjustments."
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.