GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Once he overcame some anxiety, Yonder Alonso started swinging for the fences.
And clearing them.
Hoping to improve his power statistics, Alonso altered his swing last season and the baseball began to fly. After hitting just 39 home runs in his first seven major league seasons, Alonso connected for 28 in 142 games for Oakland and Seattle.
The Indians are counting on his surge to continue.
Following first baseman Carlos Santana’s departure as a free agent to Philadelphia, the Indians were left with a run-producing void in their lineup and signed the 30-year-old Alonso, who became something of a poster boy for MLB’s new elevation trend.
Alonso implemented a higher leg kick, used a bigger upper cut and concentrated on hitting the ball harder. And, as it turned out, farther.
“I tell guys, ‘Look at me,’” said Alonso, who made his first All-Star appearance last season while with the Athletics. “I was so scared of change. Then I changed. It worked. I’m still learning that change can be good. Don’t be scared.”
Alonso, who was originally drafted in the first round by Cincinnati in 2008, has already blended into Cleveland’s tight clubhouse.
“He’s a great kid. I think he will fit in fine,” manager Terry Francona said. “He changed a lot of what he tried to do, instead of getting on top (of the ball), he just really tried to get the ball in the air. He is smart enough to know what they can do with a pitch.”
Alonso, who got a two-year, $16 million from the Indians, had been hesitant to do anything drastic with his swing. But after speaking with friends and family — his sister, Yainee, is married to Baltimore’s Manny Machado— Alonso decided to modify the way he hit the ball.
“Everybody who wants to better a person wants to put their input in and advise them,” Alonso said. “It all comes down to the mentality and wanting to change. Once you create that awareness that you do need to change. You can do it and it works.
“My brother-in-law was on me for a couple of years about it. Mentally, I wasn’t ready for it. Finally, I said all right. I’m ready for it.”
Alonso had to dedicate himself to getting better, and the commitment required hours of training and some soul-searching.
“It takes a lot of work. It has to start with your mind. If your mindset is 98 percent, it’s not going to work,” Alonso said. “You have to be 100 percent mentally first, before you go out there. You are going to exhaust yourself physically. It is a lot of hours on video. I didn’t spend much time with my family. I would get done training. I would be in the (batting) cage for two hours. I would take a rest, do more video work and go back to the cage for two hours and do it again the next day.
“I understood that I needed to exhaust myself.”
He’s been transformed from a line-drive hitter to a slugger.
Alonso got his work ethic from his father Luis, who played for Cuba’s top team and brought him and his sister to the U.S. when he was 10. The younger Alonso helped his dad clean offices at night while playing at the University of Miami.
Even in the early days of training camp, Alonso feels connected to the Indians.
“This is just a bunch of good guys with a winning attitude,” said Alonso, who has a locker next to Edwin Encarnacion, a former teammate in Cincinnati. “The group has been together for a long time, a group that knows where they are headed every single day. They have definitely inspired me.”
NOTES: The Indians signed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract that included an invitation to training camp. The 35-year-old Torres, who appeared in 67 games for Milwaukee last season, will compete for one of the openings in Cleveland’s bullpen. “We’re excited to get a look at him,” Francona said. “He’ll be competing for hopefully, that one spot.”… Andrew Miller returned to camp after missing time with the flu. … OF Brandon Guyer is being eased back after getting an MRI on the left wrist he had surgery on following the season. “We will let him have a couple days with the trainers then send him back out and rev him back up,” Francona said. … 2B Jason Kipnis has tightness in his lower back and will not play in an exhibition until Sunday.