Pena trying to keep things simple
After five strikeouts, slugger slowed things down at plate
BOSTON -- Carlos Pena struck out four times in four at-bats on Opening Day, so the last thing he wanted to see Wednesday night was tough Boston left-hander Jon Lester.
Following suit in his first at-bat, Pena went down swinging in the first inning Wednesday night for his fifth consecutive strikeout. Pena finally made contact in his next at-bat when he grounded out to second base. Even a groundout was soothing to the Rays' first baseman after his first five at-bats of the season.
"I was like, 'Yes,'" said Pena with a laugh.
Pena is a big proponent of keeping things simple at the plate. And he realized he wasn't doing that.
"I just tried to slow the game down as much as I could," Pena said. "It was quick for me those few at-bats. It was really fast. My only intent was to slow it down, and I was able to do that and see the ball. When you do that, you're able to do something. That's the most important thing in hitting -- to be able to see the ball. I was totally able to do that [in those] last few at-bats there. I was getting back to basics there."
Pena then broke out of his mini slump in a big way in his third trip to the plate against Lester. With the Rays holding a two-run lead, he powered a two-run homer to deep center field on a 3-1 pitch from Lester. Despite the epic poke, Pena did not have to fight any urges to watch.
"I ran all the way," Pena said. "I don't even know what happened, to be honest with you. I knew I hit it good,\ and I knew it had a chance, but like I always do, I took off running. I did see where it landed and I was like, 'All right, this is a good thing.'"
The home run gave Pena 11 career home runs against the Red Sox as a member of the Rays, which tied him with Aubrey Huff for most all time.
Rays manager Joe Maddon took Pena aside after Opening Day to discuss his situation.
"I talked to Carlos before the game and asked him to be patient with himself," Maddon said. "Here's a guy who is coming off surgery, didn't get enough Spring Training at-bats. He's still at the latter stages of Spring Training for me right now. And I just wanted him to understand that and be patient with himself a little bit."
Pena appreciated Maddon taking to him.
"He was like, 'Don't be so hard on yourself,'" Pena said. "He's awesome. He's always paying attention. He makes sure that he talks to his players and makes them feel comfortable, and usually when he talks to you, it's with reason -- he has something good to say, something smart to say."
Even though Pena's bat started slow, he did not let his offense affect his defense. He made a run-saving stab of a smash hit by J.D. Drew on Tuesday, and he followed that up Wednesday night by reaching over the railing of the Red Sox's dugout to make a nifty grab of Jason Bay's foul pop.
"I take a lot of pride about my defense," said Pena, the reigning American League Gold Glove first baseman. "I think a way to be a good teammate is to play good defense and not be caught up on yourself. Even though things might not have been going well for me, my team needs me out there to play some good defense. So it's the best way to not be selfish and help your ballclub out. Play defense, run hard. That's the best way to be a good teammate, so I always keep that in mind."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.