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Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Peña homers for first hit of spring

The Rays’ Carlos Peña gets congratulated in the dugout after homering off the Yankees’ Javier Vazquez, his first hit this spring. The slugger was 0-for-21 going into the game but said he has been encouraged by his improved contact rate: “I’ve been feeling great all spring and working on the things I wanted to work on.”

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

The Rays’ Carlos Peña gets congratulated in the dugout after homering off the Yankees’ Javier Vazquez, his first hit this spring. The slugger was 0-for-21 going into the game but said he has been encouraged by his improved contact rate: “I’ve been feeling great all spring and working on the things I wanted to work on.”

TAMPA — 1B Carlos Peña wasn't concerned about the spring 0-for-21 he carried into Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Yankees because of the good at-bats and frequent contact he had been making.

And as good as it felt to snap the streak, and to do it with a homer on a 3-and-2 fastball off RHP Javier Vazquez, Peña remained focused on the process.

"I've been feeling great all spring and working on the things I wanted to work on," Peña said. "So right on track, right on schedule."

Having struck out 163 times (third most in the AL) and hit only .227 last season, Peña's primary goal this spring has been to put balls in play more often. And with only six strikeouts in his first 23 plate appearances — and, by his count, only about six swing-and-misses — he has actually been very encouraged by his work.

"What are victories to me, to others are just outs," he said. "It all depends whatever your intent is."

Manager Joe Maddon, who wasn't aware of Peña's hitless streak until a reporter asked the other day, likes what he has seen, specifically the flat swing that Peña used during his hot streaks last year.

"It was just a matter of time," Maddon said. "He looks good."

Peña said he has had no problems with the two fingers on his left hand that were broken in September but has had some issues adjusting to the protective padding he has been wearing.

PINSTRIPED CARL? The Yankees are expected to be big players for CF Carl Crawford if/when he becomes a free agent after the season, and it was clear by the gathering of reporters around him Thursday that questions about a future in pinstripes aren't going to wait.

Crawford, though, wasn't biting. "I just don't even get to that point," he said. "I'm still with the team, with the Rays. I just like to think about things we're doing here. And my mind is still I want to be a Ray, and I don't even think past next year. I don't even want my mind to venture that far, 'cause I've still got to focus on playing the game."

GAME WITHIN THE GAME: Matt Garza was scheduled to start against the Yankees, but the Rays instead had him pitch in a Triple-A exhibition to limit the Yankees' exposure to him. "Nothing, for me, more complicated than that," Maddon said.

Garza said it's a little more involved as both teams seek to gain, or prevent the other from gaining, any kind of edge: "I think it's just a mind game between both teams."

Garza did well against the Orioles' Triple-A squad, allowing two runs on four hits over six innings, striking out seven and walking none, throwing 74 pitches.

GAME DETAILS: The Rays (11-4) scored on two passed balls by Jorge Posada to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth, but RHP Jeff Bennett gave it up in a three-run sixth. … OF B.J. Upton just missed another opposite-field homer and legged out a triple. … LHP Carlos Hernandez, headed to Triple-A Durham as insurance, struck out six in three innings but needed 60 pitches, though Maddon liked his two-seam fastball and curveball. … RHP Heath Rollins got six outs on five ground balls.

MISCELLANY: OF Matt Joyce (right elbow strain) is progressing and continues to DH in minor-league games but isn't likely to play the field for another week at the earliest. … Look for Hank Blalock to start at first tonight, with Peña at DH and Pat Burrell in right.

Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Peña homers for first hit of spring 03/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 2:49pm]

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