PHILADELPHIA -- If Pete Alonso had his way, he would play first base every day. He feels that “me being out there helps the team the most.” But Alonso also understands the reality of the situation, which is that Mets manager Buck Showalter will often ask him to DH. Showalter has done so twice already in seven games this season.
Rather than lament the status quo, Alonso has figured out how to own it. In his first start at DH last Saturday, Alonso hit a grand slam in a Mets victory over the Nationals. He said afterward that “grannies are sick.” In his second start at DH on Wednesday, Alonso hit a three-run homer, doubled twice and drove in five runs to lead the Mets in a 9-6 victory over the Phillies in the series finale at Citizens Bank Park.
“They’re sick, too,” Alonso said of three-run shots. “All homers are sick.”
Alonso defined his home run to right-center field “a big moment in the game,” which was indisputably true. At that particular sixth-inning juncture, the Mets were leading by four runs -- two of which Alonso had driven home on doubles in the fourth and fifth innings. His homer off Seranthony Domínguez made it a seven-run margin, which proved significant as the Phillies stormed back against a fragile-seeming Mets bullpen.
“That was nice,” said Dominic Smith, who replaced Alonso at first on Wednesday. “When he’s staying [up the middle of the field], he’s going to be one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. It’s sick. It’s sick to see that, especially early in the year and how he’s helping us win ballgames. We knew what he could do, and obviously when he’s doing it, he’s making us a way better team.”
It would be simple to make the argument that the Mets are best when Alonso is at DH and Smith is playing first base. A natural first baseman, Smith flashed Gold Glove potential as a prospect and has remained plenty capable at the position as a pro, despite the fact that the Mets have recently used him more often in left field -- a position at which he is not nearly as strong. Alonso, despite being much-improved himself as a first baseman, is still prone to inelegant movements around the bag, most recently making multiple misplays in a loss to the Nationals last Sunday.
But the Mets won’t make Alonso their everyday DH for multiple reasons. The first is that team officials remain committed -- at least for now -- to giving Robinson Canó significant at-bats at DH. The second is that Alonso has stated multiple times his desire to be a first baseman, not a DH. And given how valuable Alonso is to their entire operation, the Mets have a vested interest in keeping him happy.
“I’d rather be out there [at first],” Alonso said, “but I know that Buck’s the one that writes the lineup, and I know that he’s trying to win every single day. I’d love to play first base every day, but Dom’s a great first baseman as well. … I trust Buck. I trust every single lineup that he writes.”
Unlike Smith, Alonso gets to play daily regardless of whether he’s at DH or in the field. He has started all seven of the Mets’ games so far, and has remained in the lineup for 61 1/2 of the team’s 62 innings. Smith, by contrast, has found himself in the starting lineup only three times. While he has appeared in all but one of the Mets’ games, Smith has received less than half as many plate appearances as Alonso. He called the situation “a revolving door” -- sometimes, Showalter tells Smith that he’s playing the night before a game; sometimes, he knows the morning of the contest.
But Smith, the subject of trade rumors throughout Spring Training, says he’s at peace with the current arrangement.
“We’re winning ballgames,” Smith said. “We’re in a really good spot right now as a team. I think that’s something that we want to just continue to build on. We’ve got really big aspirations.”
In many ways, first base is the least of the Mets’ worries. Far more uncertainty surrounds the rotation, which Max Scherzer boosted on Wednesday with five innings of one-run ball, and the bullpen, which produced a 5.93 ERA during the series.
Playing time quibbles, as Showalter likes to say, have a way of working themselves out. Alonso and Smith are close friends who revel in each other’s successes. The team is 5-2.
The situation appears to be working just fine, so who are they to complain?
“We’re in a good spot right now,” Smith said. “We’re playing really good baseball, and we’re winning a ton of games. That’s the only thing that’s on this team’s mind right now.”