CINCINNATI — Yonder Alonso was relaxing in an easy chair in the visitor’s clubhouse Sunday morning, dressed in a pair of green Oakland A’s shorts, a black t-shirt and flip-flops as he scrolled through his text messages.
Alonso was the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in 2008. He played parts of 2010 and 2011 with the Reds and hit .330 in 2011 in 47 games.
There was, though, a major problem, a major roadblock to Alonso. He is a first baseman and the Reds already had an MVP first baseman named Joey Votto. They tried to convert Alonso into an outfielder but it didn’t take.
So, after the 2011 season he was packaged along with three other players — Edinson Volquez, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger — in a trade to San Diego for pitcher Mat Latos. Alonso played four years in San Diego before the Padres traded him to Oakland last December. Meanwhile, the Reds signed Votto to a 10-year $225 million contract.
ALONSO’S HEART REMAINS in Cincinnati, even though the son of Cuban refugees grew up in Miami.
“I like it here, really love it,” he said. “I was telling my wife that just the other day. I miss it here.”
He has been gone five years but the Reds still have former teammates Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. And he loves what he has observed this weekend from Bruce.
“Looks to me as if he has figured it out,” he said. “He is swinging at good pitches, taking bad pitches. I noticed that he didn’t foul off a single pitch the first two games of the series. He was right on everything.”
Bruce hit a 459-foot two-run home run Saturday, the only runs the Reds scored in a 2-1 victory. He also walked a couple of times and Alonso chatted with him at first base.
“I said, ‘Man, you’re on it. You aren’t even fouling off pitches and you’re laying off bad pitches,’” Alonso said. “Bruce just said he is seeing the ball really well.”
ALONSO WAS TOLD that after hitting that home run, his 14th of the season, Bruce related that he never hits home runs in batting practice and said, “I have no use for home runs in batting practice. None. Batting practice home runs do me no good.”
What Bruce meant was that he worked on hitting line drives and spray balls all around the field and when Alonso heard that he said, “That tells me he gets it. He knows what he is doing. I’ve also noticed he seems trimmer, more fit. And home runs? He knows he is strong enough to hit them without doing it in batting practice when he gets his pitch. And that seems to me what he is doing. He is up there looking for the good pitch to hit.”
Alonso was told that Bruce’s days left with the Reds may be a low number, that he is undoubtedly part of the team’s dismantling and rebuild, even though he loves it in Cincinnati but understands the business end of the game. Alonso shook his head and said, “Yeah, I hear him. I know how he feels”
Of the Reds, Alonso smiled and said, “We heard they were struggling with their pitching but we haven’t seen that. They have the hitters, they can score runs.” That, too, was missing in the Oakland series. Although the Reds won two of three, the hitters went into hibernation, scoring only five rus in the three games, winning two games by 2-1 and losing Sunday’s finale, 6-1.
SOMEBODY MENTIONED ON TV today that the two worst teams in baseball begin a four-game series tonight and nobody had to think too hard to come up with the teams: the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves.
There can be some debate about that, if it matters. Bad is bad, no matter the degree. If one goes by records, the Braves at 18-44 are clearly the worst. But they are only one game behind the Minnesota Twins at 19-43. The Reds are 24-39, third worst. Because the Reds are in the same division as the Chicago Cubs they are 20 games out of first place, the widest margin for any team. And the Reds have a boa constrictor grip on last place. They are six games behind next-to-last Milwaukee in the National League Central.
All three of baseball’s worst teams claim they are in rebuilding modes and for the next four games fans can see which team, Cincinnati or Atlanta, is farthest ahead or farthest behind in their personal Reconstruction Acts.