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Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Peña shines in first spring action

BRADENTON — 1B Carlos Peña didn't need long Friday to show how well he has recovered from January abdominal surgery.

He hit the first pitch he saw this spring off the top of the left-centerfield wall for a double and later came around to score. Then in his next at-bat, he doubled in two runs with a blooper to left.

After the 8-5 victory over the Pirates, he said he felt as good as he looked.

"It was funny. Guys were like, 'It's that easy?' I'm like, 'No, buddy, it's not,' " Peña said. "It felt really good. I'm still conscious of (the injury), and I know I'm going to have to treat it and do the icing because it gets sore and the muscles are still getting used to all the activity. But overall, I'm very happy with the way I felt out there."

Running the bases had been his biggest concern, enough so that third-base coach Tom Foley checked with Peña when he got to second during the first-inning rally. Peña admitted he was wondering himself how it would feel but said he "let it go a little bit" and there were no issues from the Jan. 8 repair of the two tears in his lower abdominal muscle.

It was his attempt at a head-first slide that clearly needs some work.

"I think guys were making more fun of the fact that I belly flopped at home plate," he said. "It looked like I slid. But in reality, I just fell and lost total control of my body."

Peña said he expects to be off today and play Sunday.

MISSING MAN: Eric Hinske played 133 games for the Rays last season, hitting .247 with 20 homers and 60 RBIs. But he and DH Cliff Floyd might have played even larger roles as veteran leaders in the clubhouse.

The Rays didn't show much interest in bringing back either as they desired to add right-handed hitters, signing Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler. The question is if the veteran presence Hinske and Floyd provided will be missed.

"You'd like to think so," said Hinske, who signed a one-year $1.5 million deal with the Pirates. "I felt like we definitely had a big part in what went on there last year. So you hope you feel missed, for sure. But they're a group of young, talented guys that have a lot of good years ahead of them.

"So I don't think it's going to affect their play at all on the field. But the clubhouse, we were always pretty good in the clubhouse, so … ."

MAKING HIS PITCH: LHP Carlos Hernandez threw too many pitches, 75 in 32/3 innings, but he and manager Joe Maddon were otherwise pleased with his third outing in his attempt to win the fifth spot in the rotation.

"The first two innings, I thought he fought himself a bit. And after that, he pitched really well," Maddon said. "I thought he got better as he went along."

Said Hernandez: "The only thing I don't really like is that I'm throwing too many pitches. That's something I have to work on. They're fouling (off) a lot of balls on me."

SHIELDS UP: Opening day starter James Shields makes his first appearance of the spring today in the Rays' 10th game. But Maddon said the delayed debut shouldn't make any difference given the elongated spring schedule.

"Just pretend like it's March 1 … and we're going to start the season April 1," Maddon said. "He's going to be stretched out the same manner that he normally is. There's no difference. There's no rush or whatever. It's the same. The clock just starts. The blanket's off (today)."

GAME DETAILS: The Rays (4-4) grabbed an early 8-0 lead thanks to Peña, Dioner Navarro (RBI single and double) and Elliot Johnson (homer) then hung on 8-5. James Houser created the stress, allowing three runs in a messy eighth.

MISCELLANY: First-base coach George Hendrick was ill and missed the game. Quality assurance coach Todd Greene replaced him. … Ex-Ray Rocco Baldelli is not scheduled to make today's trip with the Red Sox. … Minor-league camp opened Friday for pitchers and catchers, but no roster moves are planned for the next few days. … Burrell is scheduled to return Monday after taking four days off for his sister's wedding in San Francisco.

Tampa Bay Rays' Carlos Peña shines in first spring action 03/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 7, 2009 6:28am]

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