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Rays' Pena showing signs of snapping out of slump

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon has said several times that if 1B Carlos Pena is walking, he's hitting.

Pena's patience at the plate, and a couple of recent mechanical adjustments, have Maddon believing the 30-year-old is "getting back on track" following a recent 4-for-24 slump. Pena walked three times Sunday, going 1-for-2 with a two-run homer, and has reached base eight times in the past two days.

"He absolutely looks right to me," Maddon said. "He's more spread out, he's lower, his foot is getting down sooner. He looks really good."

The walks are an important sign because Pena is one of the AL leaders with 57 strikeouts. His homer Sunday came on a 3-and-0 count, and his third walk set up Evan Longoria's game-winning double.

Pena, who's coming off a career year with 46 homers, 121 RBIs and 103 walks, is batting .226 and has yet to crack .250 this season, but he says it's a "process."

"I've seen the ball a lot better the last few games," Pena said. "I've stayed on the pitches a lot better."

Now, if only Pena could face the Orioles all the time. He has half of his 10 homers and 18 of his 29 RBIs in 11 games against Baltimore this season. In 38 games against other opponents, he has hit .196 (27-of-138).

GETTING DEFENSIVE: One of Maddon's biggest points of emphasis in a preseason meeting with coaches was the desire to be one of the most fundamentally sound teams in baseball. Though Maddon admits some improvements could be made in baserunning, the Rays defense — which made several great plays Sunday — has been tough to top.

With another error-free game, Tampa Bay has committed just four errors in its past 30 games, the best by any team over a 30-game stretch since the Mariners committed three from May 29 to June 30, 2003.

"I can't ask for anything more from our defense," Maddon said. "All of them are playing at a very high level. … I don't think it could be played much better than we've done at this point."

FLOYD RESTS: DH Cliff Floyd was given the day off, with Maddon saying it was mostly to keep the 38-year-old healthy considering he's coming off knee surgery. Floyd snapped an 0-for-16 stretch Saturday night with a single. Maddon said Floyd should be back in the lineup today. "He's been banged up, fouling balls off his leg," Maddon said. "Just coming off surgery, I just didn't want to keep pushing him like that."

ALL-STAR CHATTER: With the Rays off to such a hot start, Maddon was asked if this might be the year two Tampa Bay players are on the All-Star team; Carl Crawford was its only one last season.

But while C Dioner Navarro continues to be one of the league's top-hitting catchers, and RHP Andy Sonnanstine has racked up six wins, Maddon said the best part about the run has been a different guy stepping up each night — which doesn't make for one player standing out.

"That's the beauty of what we're doing right now," Maddon said. "Nobody's just having a career kind of year, and we're still playing at this level, which means there's a different bus driver every night, which I kind of like. …

"I think we have All-Star caliber players, but they're not having All-Star caliber years, individually, at this particular juncture."

MISCELLANY: Orioles DH Aubrey Huff's homer Sunday gave him 10, with a .311 batting average, in 26 games against his former team. … Closer Troy Percival faced two batters in the ninth for his first appearance in a non-save situation since April 20. … With a franchise-best 15 victories, the Rays have clinched the first winning May in club history.

Rays' Pena showing signs of snapping out of slump 05/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, May 25, 2008 9:26pm]
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