Pena returns to boost Rays lineup
Left-handed hitter adds new dimension against White Sox
CHICAGO -- Rays manager Joe Maddon has no intention of rewriting the lineup card he turned in on Sunday. As far as Maddon can tell, there shouldn't be any issues with having Carlos Pena man first base against the White Sox.
"Right now, I fully well expect to not have to change the lineup today," Maddon said with a smile, a few hours before Tampa Bay opened Game 3 of the American League Division Series at U.S. Cellular Field.
Maddon said Pena's condition improved dramatically during Saturday's workout in Chicago, where the first baseman took part in batting practice and fielding drills without any problems. Now, back in the lineup, Pena provides the Rays with a potent bat that changes the dynamic of the batting order.
"He does a lot for the guy in front of him and the guy behind him," said Rays rookie Evan Longoria, "just as far as the pitches that we get, and the way that everybody throughout the lineup is pitched. So, he is a huge lift to our lineup."
Pena, who led Tampa Bay with 31 home runs and 102 RBIs this season, was slotted into the lineup's third hole for Game 3 in Chicago. His return allowed Maddon to slide left fielder Carl Crawford back into the fifth spot and to keep Longoria as the cleanup hitter. With Pena back in the mix, Maddon also adjusted the bottom of his lineup.
"Carlos has been such a big factor," Maddon said. "It moves guys around in the lineup."
Willy Aybar, who had been filling in admirably at first base in Pena's absence, moved to the designated hitter role and into the sixth hole. Catcher Dioner Navarro, right fielder Rocco Baldelli and shortstop Jason Bartlett occupied the lineup's final three slots, respectively -- a combination made possible by Pena's return.
"I always look at the bottom part of the lineup," Maddon said. "If you have Navvy, Rocco and J.B. in the seventh, eighth and ninth, I like that. I think that speaks to strength. That only happens because Carlos is in there hitting third -- so it's great to have him back."
The addition of Pena also added a third left-handed bat to the order on Sunday.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen wants to try to take advantage of the many left-handers that the Rays send to the plate.
On Friday night, Chicago started left-hander Mark Buehrle and Guillen has turned to southpaw John Danks for Game 3. If the best-of-five series goes the distance, righty Gavin Floyd, who is down to start Game 4, could be followed by Buehrle instead of Javier Vazquez in the final game.
"I want them to see a lefty every time they come to play," Guillen said. "Because, this ballclub, they have some left-handed hitters that are scary."
This season, the Rays hit .246 against left-handed pitchers, compared to .267 against righties. Tampa Bay's left-handed batters posted a .217 average against southpaws in 2008. Even so, Longoria believes the Rays have improved against left-handers in light of how many they've faced lately.
Longoria could be on to something, too. During Game 2 in St. Petersburg, the Rays tagged Buehrle for five runs on 10 hits en route to a 6-2 victory, taking a 2-0 series lead in the process.
"We expect to see it," said Longoria, referring to facing so many lefties. "We've seen it throughout the stretch run that we had there in September, and I'm sure we'll continue to see it. But, I think our guys have become a lot better at hitting lefties just because of the fact that we've seen so many."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.