PITTSBURGH –Within the quandary of what has led to the precipitous second-half dips from All-Star first basemen Josh Bell and Pete Alonso, there is a bit of a disagreement between coaches and players regarding the All-Star week.
Both Alonso and Bell are adamant that their first time experiencing what it entails to be an All-Star, which included participating in the Home Run Derby and tallying two at-bats in the actual game, has not played a role in why they are slumping.
“If I could do the All-Star Game 100 more times I would do it, the Home Run Derby 100 more times I would do it,” Bell told Yahoo sports Saturday afternoon. “That was the most special time I’ve had in the game being in the clubhouse with those guys and picking their brains and just being amongst the greats.”
Added Alonso: “I felt really rested and prepared going into the second half. I just haven’t performed. I don’t think it has anything to do with the Derby messing up my swing, not having ample enough rest because I had two off days.”
Yet those who see them on a daily basis are more open to the idea that the time spent at the Midsummer Classic can have a drain on players.
The interviews. The autograph sessions. The derby itself, an event which Alonso won. And then the game the next night.
While other players are on beaches sipping on a cold beverage, Bell and Alonso were among the game’s elite and putting on a show for the world.
“If I really had to analyze what’s happening, (Alonso) … never had an All-Star break, (he) didn’t get to kind of go home, relax, and not think baseball for a couple of days,” Mets hitting coach Chili Davis said Saturday at PNC Park. “And especially for Pete, being in the Home Run contest and everything, there’s my excuse.”
The Home Run Derby curse has long been debunked, but those who have played in the All-Star Game and experienced the festivities of the week divulge that it can be tiring. Adding the Home Run Derby into the fold, which includes hundreds of swings in short intervals, only adds to the fatigue.
The players don’t really get a chance to get away from it all, and then have just two days off – one of which may involve traveling – before starting the second half.
“Learning how to deal with it is kind of ironic because you get there because you’re really good. And then everybody else gets four days off, and it’s not just the game, it’s everything else that goes with the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s 10 times the normal day in-season. Absolutely, it can be more of an energy sap. But you have to go through it once to experience it.”
The All-Star break is a fair line of demarcation for both Bell and Alonso, since they are experiencing prolonged slumps compared to their torrid first-half production. Bell did slump in June, but he still hit for power despite a low average.
Alonso and Bell combined for 57 homers in the first half with Alonso setting Mets and rookie records along the way.
Bell, in his fourth season, produced a .302/.376/.648/1.024 slash line. Alonso, a rookie, slashed .280/.372/.634/1.066. They were insanely hot.
In the second half, they’ve been insanely cold.
Bell, after an 0-for-2 day in the 13-2 loss to the Mets Sunday, is hitting just .186/.305/.243/.548. He last homered July 5, a stretch of 77 at-bats.
Alonso has hit four homers since the break, but owns a .151/.315/.342/.658 line with 30 strikeouts in 73 at-bats. He did not register an at-bat in Sunday’s game.
“I’m not where I want to be,” Alonso said. “It’s frustrating because I put in a lot of work every single day and the results aren’t coming and I need to keep working.”
Their struggles appear to have a common thread in that both players are expanding the zone more than usual, and not driving pitches they normally would.
Bell, 26, believes his timing is off on fastballs.
The first baseman said there are four pillars of hitting: balance, rhythm, vision and timing. And when one is off, like his timing is, that pyramid collapses.
Bell is trying to get the tip of his barrel out earlier, which prevents his head from moving while he’s swinging. He doesn’t feel fatigue has been an issue, but admitted the long slumps affect confidence.
“It all falls down to timing. I feel I’m late,” Bell said. “When you’re late, nothing good happens.”
Hurdle said he is planning to get Bell some more days off to galvanize him.
“I don’t think anyone ever makes sense when they say I’m going to catch up on sleep. Just doesn’t happen. You missed what you missed,” Hurdle said of being an All-Star. “We’re trying to find ways to help him, days to give him off to reignite or rekindle some energy. It’s all part of the learning process, education process and the professional process of being a good player.”
Even with the slump, Bell is enjoying his best season in the majors.
“We put ourselves in a position where Josh feels good and comfortable and he’s shown some really good things and the ebbs and flows of a major league season are ever-present,” Pirates hitting coach Rick Eckstein said Saturday. “You continue to battle that. He’s kept his head on straight, works really hard and is a great teammate. We got two months to finish the season strong.”
For Alonso, his frustration with his second half stems from him knowing exactly how pitchers are getting him out. And he hasn’t made the necessary adjustments.
He said he “definitely” has expanded his zone, and the pitches he was planting in the seats earlier in the year are now being fouled off or missed.
Alonso downplayed the effects of the All-Star week, noting he had two days off and was so “amped up” he didn’t need any caffeine to make it through the festivities.
“I’ve given them a reason to not throw in the zone because I’ve been chasing,” Alonso said. “I was taking my walks, but after a while it gets even more frustrating because they’re not going to throw it in the zone if I keep chasing.
“When they do, I haven’t been capitalizing the way I can.”
Davis, believes that Alonso is so anxious to drive in a run in a big spot that it can be counterproductive.
As a three-time All-Star himself, Davis knows well what it’s like to come out of the break after spending a few days preparing as an All-Star.
“Having those couple days off not to think about it, not only for a coach, a player, anybody. You’re at the game, but it gives you that, ‘OK, let me relax, not wake up in the morning,’” Davis said. “You think, ‘OK I got a day off today, got to be back at work tomorrow,’ because your day off you find yourself trying to do everything you couldn’t do. It’s really not a day off. To have those three days is important.”
Both Alonso and Bell think they’ve had some better at-bats lately, and they could be on their ways toward breaking out of their slumps.
They’re not that far removed from being honored as two of the game’s best hitters, and great hitters usually find a way to get back on track, even if they missed out on a few days of rest while others were preparing for the stretch run.
“I feel like after having a big first half, I have a target on my back because I can do damage and I’m a power guy and was really good in the first half,” Alonso said. “I haven’t been very effective in the second half and I need to be working.”
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