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Rays' Pena takes small steps toward bigger days

ST. PETERSBURG — The fifth-inning blast that cleared the centerfield fence was impressive, a three-run home run that capped Carlos Pena's five-RBI Fourth of July.

But it was the first-inning, two-strike single to right and the routine third-inning fly ball on a full count, each driving in a run, that were most important in the potential resurgence of the struggling slugger.

"The homers are going to happen," Maddon said, "but the other at-bats, he had to grind them out. And they were kind of tighter moments, the score was different, so the pitcher has a different attitude about the moment."

In other words, it was the quality of the first two at-bats, rather than the quantity produced by the third, that Maddon considered good signs.

" 'Los, it's just a matter of time with him," Maddon said. "He had some really good at-bats, quality at-bats. … He has to accept his walks, he can't be chasing (pitches), he can't be expanding his (strike) zone. And when he operates that way, he can get pretty hot."

The Rays keep waiting, and hoping. Pena had a team-record 46 homers and 121 RBIs last season and got paid for it with a three-year, $24.125-million deal, but he hasn't been nearly as productive this season.

Through Friday, having missed three weeks with a broken/fractured finger, he has a .227 average, 12 homers and 43 RBIs (with 35 walks and 77 strikeouts). At the same point last season, his numbers were .287, 19, 50 (with 37 and 66).

Pena said he still believes this can be "an outstanding year, a great year" and that his numbers could be just as good or better. But even though he's thinking big, his key is keeping his focus small.

"What I try to do is understand what is the most important thing, and that's the ballclub," Pena said. "If I keep that focus on the team — get a walk, score a run, play good defense — it takes a lot of pressure off me.

"I go out there and try to concentrate on the small things, and the next thing you know you're driving in five runs. That's not what you set out to do, but you're contributing in the best possible way."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays' Pena takes small steps toward bigger days 07/04/08 [Last modified: Sunday, July 6, 2008 3:41pm]
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