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Pena helping Rays with sharp eye, mind

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP James Shields said of 1B Carlos Pena, "Once (he) gets hot, I think the whole lineup gets hot."

The Rays' current series with the Royals bears that out.

Pena went 3-for-5 with two RBIs Sunday, with his hits ranging from line drives to surprises. Before he delivered a two-run double in the third, Pena shocked the Royals' shifted defense in the second by dropping a perfect bunt down the third-base line. According to baseball-reference.com, it was just the fifth bunt single in Pena's career, which spans 721 games. The last time he did it was Sept. 19, 2007, vs. the Angels.

"I liked it," manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought it was a great play."

But what has impressed Maddon the most in Pena's recent at-bats is the left-handed slugger's patience, how he takes "borderline pitches that are called balls."

"You can see that their foot is down in time, they've got good balance," Maddon said of hitters with that approach. "And they're not jumpy all over the place. … Last year at the end of the season, when (Pena) really climbed his batting average up to .282, that's what he looked like."

Pena has seven RBIs in the series, and the Rays are averaging 6.3 runs throughout the six-game homestand.

GARZA'S GOT IT: Maddon believes today's starter, RHP Matt Garza, has turned a corner, saying his ability to control his emotions is helping him control his pitches. Since his early exit in Texas on June 8, when he had a heated exchange with C Dioner Navarro, Garza is 3-1 with a 1.55 ERA. Garza has thrown 68 percent of his pitches for strikes in his past three starts and has walked nine in his past seven starts after walking 20 in his first eight.

"He has a more calm demeanor; he's not out there all tensed up, fired up all the time, spitting fire, whatever," Maddon said. "He's gotten control of his emotions, and with that you're seeing a real pounding of the strike zone, with velocity and angle."

MEDICAL MATTERS: RHP Al Reyes, on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis, said he's slated to start a rehab assignment for Class A Vero Beach, pitching Tuesday, Thursday then on back-to-back days Sunday and Monday. … Maddon said that with closer Troy Percival (left hamstring strain) having a similar injury to the one that put him on the DL earlier this season, the club likely will be more cautious in when they'll bring him back. He didn't want to give a specific timetable. … Maddon said OF Rocco Baldelli likely will work out in St. Petersburg during the team's upcoming road trip; no minor-league assignments have been scheduled.

WIZARD IN TOWN: Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch, and SS Ben Zobrist was starstruck. Zobrist attended lots of Cardinals games, growing up about 2½ hours away in Eureka, Ill., and Smith was his favorite player. Zobrist, who said he owned the same model glove Smith wore with the Cards, chatted briefly with the former shortstop in the clubhouse. Smith was on hand with Aflac to honor Florida high school standouts picked for a national all-star game (including Plant's Mychal Givens). "It was awesome," Zobrist said of meeting Smith. "He was really cool about it."

MISCELLANY: Desmond Jennings, one of the Rays' top outfield prospects, is slated to have left shoulder surgery Wednesday in St. Petersburg. … LHP David Price went to 3-0, 1.42 at Double-A Montgomery in a 3-1 win over West Tenn. The top overall pick in 2007 pitched seven innings, striking out six and allowing one run, four hits and a walk. … In a unique promotion, Hess Express is giving $5 gas cards to all fans in attendance for the July 18 game against the Blue Jays. … 2B Akinori Iwamura extended his hitting streak to 10 games.

Pena helping Rays with sharp eye, mind 07/06/08 [Last modified: Monday, July 7, 2008 6:09pm]
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