ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon said 1B Carlos Pena is a big part of why August was the best month in Rays history.
With Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria injured, Maddon said Pena "turned up the dial a bit."
But Pena, who had nine homers and 29 RBIs in August, said he completed the feat by taking a step back, using a simple approach at the plate — and tapping into some advice Manny Ramirez gave him two years ago.
The two were teammates briefly in Boston, and Pena approached the 12-time All-Star to ask him, "How do you do it?"
"I see the ball," Ramirez deadpanned.
Pena was initially frustrated, wondering why Ramirez wouldn't share his secrets. But the left-handed slugger soon realized, and showed this month, that focusing on seeing the ball is what works.
Maddon has said, "When Carlos walks, he hits." And that played out in August, when Pena racked up one-third of his walks (28 of 82), including two on 3-and-2 pitches Maddon said many in the majors wouldn't have laid off. At the same time, Pena had one-third of his homers (nine of 27) and RBIs (29 of 84) in the month. He has come through in the clutch; in seven games, he knocked in the tying or winning run.
Pena didn't do so by worrying about carrying the team on his back, looking back on early struggles or feeling pressure to match his career year last season, when he had 46 homers and 121 RBIs.
"How can you hit with all that baggage?" Pena said. "How about focusing on the at-bat right now? How about focusing on this pitch, and that's the only way you can help your team."
And it's not just hitting. Maddon pointed to Pena's play in the field (he leads all major-league infielders in fielding percentage at .999) and basepaths, from beating out a bunt in Chicago with a headfirst slide or hustling for an infield hit Sunday.
"He set an example," Maddon said. "That is easily seen and felt among the group."
Top gun: CF B.J. Upton racked up his 11th outfield assist Saturday, tied for third in the AL, and that doesn't surprise Maddon, who said Upton "might have the best outfield arm in the American League."
Upton caught a particularly tough judge's attention two weeks ago when his laserlike throw gunned down speedy Angels CF Torii Hunter at home.
"I was talking to Ron Roenicke, the bench coach of the Angels, (about Upton's arm) and Ronnie's a real hard grader, trust me," Maddon said. "Maybe one of the toughest I've ever been around. And he said, 'That's an 80 arm' — 80 being the highest grade. Coming from Ron Roenicke, that is extremely high praise."
ROSTER MOVES: OF Fernando Perez and C John Jaso are expected to join the Rays today in the first round of callups from Triple A. RHP Troy Percival, on the DL since mid August with a right knee problem, is expected to be activated. RHP Juan Salas, who was technically optioned to Double A to make room for Perez, will be back. Other call-ups are expected after Durham is done with the playoffs, which start Wednesday.