Raking Pena doesn't see start as hot
Rays slugging first baseman eyes consistency in approach
ST. PETERSBURG -- Carlos Pena wants to keep it simple. Yes, the Rays first baseman is aware that things are going pretty well for him at the plate and in the field through the first couple of weeks of the season, but to allow himself to think in terms of a "fast start" would be to admit that what's going on right now isn't necessarily the norm.
So he comes into Sunday's game against the White Sox tied for the Major League lead in home runs with six. And he has displayed the same defensive skills that earned him his first Gold Glove Award last season.
The trick in mid-April is to make sure such things don't turn his head.
"I wouldn't call myself [a fast starter]," Pena said Saturday. "The idea is not to even think of it as a 'start' or the middle of the season or end of the season or the first week of the season. It's basically just to make it a pitch -- whether it's a Spring Training pitch or a World Series pitch or a first-week pitch during the season, they're essentially the same thing. I would ideally want to maintain the same focus every single time I step into the batter's box. It's a batter's box, so there's only one thing you need to do: see that ball and trust your hands and leave it at that."
Pena clearly is locked in at the plate. His 15 RBIs are second in the American League, and even his foul balls have a tendency to bounce off the back wall beyond the right-field foul pole at Tropicana Field.
Aside from the fact that balls are leaving the ballpark off his bat at a high frequency, how can Pena tell his approach at the plate is working?
"After every pitch, I ask myself, 'Were you there? Were you engaged fully on that pitch?'" Pena said. "And I either have a yes or no answer. And if it's a no answer, then, 'OK, let's do it this pitch.'"
He was clearly engaged during a two-pitch sequence Friday against White Sox starter Bartolo Colon. After launching a foul ball more than 400 feet down the right-field line on a pitch that rode in on his hands, Pena knocked Colon's next pitch -- which came in above the waist and a bit outside -- for a line drive home run over the 404-foot sign in straightaway center field.
"That's a good example there, because every pitch is different, there's no attachment to the one before," Pena said. "But to be able to do that is a different story. It's easier to say than it is to do it."
Since striking out four times in his season debut against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Pena has put together the longest hit streak in the AL so far, 11 games. Manager Joe Maddon is hoping his cleanup batter can keep it up by keeping it simple.
"I like how quiet he is at the plate," Maddon said. "God bless, I'd like to just can that for the next 10 years or so. It's just right. What he's doing is just right. He's getting his foot down in time. He's very quiet. He's seeing the ball well. He's not jumpy. He's not trying to do too much. He's using the whole field. Pulls a [foul-ball] home run, then hits it out dead center field. I love that. He just has a great approach going right now."
Carter Gaddis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.