OAKLAND — Consider A’s hitting coach Darren Bush slightly less astonished than the rest of the baseball world over Yonder Alonso’s recent burst of power.
The veteran first baseman deposited two more balls over the fence in the A’s 7-3 loss to the Angels on Tuesday night, giving him 11 for the season and already eclipsing his previous career high (nine) just 33 games into the regular season.
That ties Alonso for the second-most homers in the American League, surprising for a player whose lack of power has been the biggest knock on him over his eight big league seasons.
But what fans perhaps see as a freaky turn of events is, in Bush’s eyes, a just reward for a player who’s been as committed as anyone in Oakland’s clubhouse to improving himself as a hitter.
“I know there’s been a lot of talk about how he’s trying to improve his launch angle. None of that’s true,” Bush said. “All he’s trying to do is be in position and execute a good swing, and the by-product is the ball is going the way that it should.”
The evolution of Alonso’s offensive game began toward the end of last season, when he started incorporating a front leg kick to initiate his swing. Not surprisingly, he worked on it with good friend and former A’s teammate Danny Valencia, who also was a teammate at the University of Miami.
Bush said the leg kick simply helps Alonso get into the position he needs to be in to start his swing.
“If you watch his video from last year and compare it to this year, last year he’d get his foot down early, and then he’d re-start and try to execute his swing. It’s tough to do,” Bush said. “This year, his leg kick is just on time. He’s given himself time to read the pitch, he’s given himself time to execute his swing. In my mind, he hasn’t changed anything. The only thing he’s changed is the position he’s in before he executes his swing.
“He doesn’t have a two-part swing. It’s just one fluid swing.”
The results are, quite frankly, ridiculous. Never before had Alonso hit more than nine home runs in an entire season. He’s now hit seven in the first eight games of May alone.
He’s leading the A’s in batting average (.309) homers (11) and RBI (27). Teammate Chris Bassitt took to Twitter to campaign for Alonso’s All-Star candidacy.
“Baseball fans... @YonderalonsoU is an allstar,” Bassitt tweeted. “Can we please do what's right and get him to Miami? He is beyond deserving.”
In addition to his two homers Tuesday, Alonso made a slick play in cutting off Cameron Maybin’s sharp grounder headed for right field and threw a strike to Jharel Cotton covering first. Later he made an over-the-head catch, while on the run, of Martin Maldonado’s foul pop.
A’s manager Bob Melvin referenced Alonso’s opposite-field power, which he displayed on his first homer, a two-run shot in the first off Alex Meyer.
“What are we in? Early May?” Melvin asked. “It’s been impressive. The thing that’s most impressive to me is the home runs to the opposite field. … He’s just trying to make hard contact, and using his legs. When he gets the ball in the air, he’s a strong guy. It has a chance to go.”
Alonso began incorporating the changes in his swing in pregame work last season but didn’t try taking it into the game. He continued working in the offseason, sending Bush video of his swing. The two talked often throughout the winter. Once spring training began, Bush also worked with Alonso on being more patient, being willing to work deeper into the count.
It’s way too early to talk about the All-Star Game. But what a story it would be if Alonso got the invite to Miami, where he and his family settled after defecting from Cuba, and where he starred for the Hurricanes.
However, the last thing Alonso likes to do is talk about himself when reporters ask about this hot streak.
“It’s just working hard,” he said, “just getting to the park and making sure I’m getting my work in and staying focused.”
Bush enjoys seeing Alonso benefiting from all the work he’s put in.
“It’s not easy for guys (to make adjustments) at the big league level, and he wasn’t afraid,” Bush said. “I’m happy that he wasn’t content. I’m happy that he wanted to improve.”