Pena not worried about offensive woes
Shortstop continues stellar defensive play
KANSAS CITY -- Reporters gathered around Tony Pena after the Royals' game on Saturday night, the conversation centered around his miraculous game-saving play in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and Kansas City up by a run. Pena went into the hole at the edge of the grass, dropped to his knees and lasered a strike to first to beat the speedy Adam Lind to the bag.
The predictably understated Royals manager Trey Hillman called it, "a wonderful play."
Winning pitcher Luke Hochevar called it "unbelievable."
For Pena, however, it was just another day at the office. He has been making those kinds of plays ever since he became the Royals starting shortstop at the start of the 2007 season.
Pena's defensive prowess hasn't necessarily translated to the offensive side of the game. He hit .267 in his rookie campaign, but it was a "soft" .267, as his on-base percentage was only slightly higher than his batting average, at .284. He walked only 10 times the entire season while striking out 78 times. He tagged 25 doubles, a team-high seven triples and two home runs in more than 500 at-bats.
Most everyone expected improvement offensively in his sophomore season, especially with the help of Hillman's emphasis on plate discipline and patience. But a look back on his Minor League record suggests that might have been more hope than promise.
His career Minor League average was .252, bumped by a .284 mark in his final season in the International League before a mid-season callup by the Braves. His Minor League on-base percentage of .282 showed walks just aren't a part of this free swinger's game.
Early April this season found him in an 0-for-26 slump, with his bat triggering more groans than oohs or ahs.
He's 4 for his last 14 on the team's current homestand entering Sunday, including a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, and Saturday night he opened the fifth inning with a booming triple over the head of the left fielder.
"I'm starting to feel better at the plate, seeing the ball better," he said. "I got a good pitch I could drive and got a triple out of it."
Pena contends he hasn't made any drastic changes in his approach at the plate. He was particularly conscious of not making any drastic changes.
"It gets to the point where you might start thinking about I might be doing this, might be doing that. You can get in a bigger hole instead of just going out there and trying to put the ball in play," he said.
He has made a couple of minor adjustments, such as holding his bat more straight up. He added that seeing the ball better is making the biggest difference. He reminds himself the limited number of at-bats in the early season can cause an overreaction.
"We've got a long ways to go still," he said.
The addition of the gigantic Kauffman Stadium high-definition video board in center field has drawn additional attention to player stats as well as skin blemishes and shaving nicks.
"I try not to look at it," he said.
He probably sneaked a glance at the replay of that defensive play Saturday night, however.
Max Utsler is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.