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Alonso on the spot for Padres

3/5/2014

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Yonder Alonso has been through quite the voyage of self-discovery since the Cincinnati Reds selected him out of the University of Miami with the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft.

In December 2011, the Reds sent Alonso and three other players to San Diego in a trade for starting pitcher Mat Latos. The following year, Alonso banged out 39 doubles to finish sixth in National League Rookie of the Year balloting. But just when he appeared to be building on that debut season, his luck turned south. He suffered a broken right hand on a pitch from Toronto's Aaron Loup last May, and was never the same before shutting it down for good at the end of August.

After a winter of rehab and working out back home in Miami with Manny Machado and Jon Jay, his former college teammate, Alonso is ready to reassert himself. His hand has healed, and he thinks he learned something about himself from the adjustments he had to make to compensate for his injury.

"I think I matured a little bit as a hitter, just knowing what I could and couldn't do," Alonso said. "It made me a better player in that respect."

The Padres increased their home run output from 121 to 146 last year after moving in the outfield fences at Petco Park. At the same time, their overall run production declined from 651 to 618. Positive contributions from outfielder Will Venable and rookie second baseman Jedd Gyorko couldn't offset Chase Headley's statistical dropoff and extended injury absences from Cameron Maybin, Everth Cabrera, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Quentin and Alonso.

While Maybin is expected to miss two to three months with a torn biceps tendon and Headley is still recovering from a strained calf, Alonso is getting into the swing of things in the Cactus League. He pulled a monster home run to right field off Arizona's Randall Delgado at Peoria Stadium on Tuesday, showing a glimpse of what he's capable of when he catches a ball just right. But Alonso has a total of 20 career homers in 1,000 big league at-bats, so the Padres are under no illusions that he'll ever be a classic corner infield bopper.

"He's got good bat-to-ball skills," said Padres manager Bud Black. "He's got the ability to hit the ball over the fence and get it in the gaps and be a productive member of the lineup. If he hits 10-15 homers, that's fine as long as he gets his RBIs and scores his runs. We're looking for him to take a step forward."