Practice helping Pena step up
Slugger dialing up production during critical stretch
ST. PETERSBURG -- To a powerful hitter like Carlos Pena, it wasn't always easy to take a less-is-more approach at the plate.
Even when it comes at the suggestion of a prolific hitter like Los Angeles' Manny Ramirez.
"He said, 'I see the ball,'" Pena said of the advice Ramirez gave him when they were teammates in Boston in 2006.
"It's actually frustrating a little bit," Pena said. "When you ask these hitters [like Ramirez] and they give you the answer, you are like, 'What? Come on.'"
Eventually, Pena gave up trying to uncover the "secrets" of other great hitters like Pete Rose and David Ortiz and took Ramirez's words to heart.
And although Pena claims his hitting is constantly a work in progress, simple swinging never looked so good.
Since Aug. 5, he has hit .301 with eight home runs, a triple, five doubles and 23 RBIs, raising his season average by 13 points (to .245) and his slugging percentage by 48 points (to .499).
"He's just taken it upon himself to turn up his game," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I'm seeing better at-bats -- he's not missing his pitches. He just turned up the dial a bit. I just think that comes from within."
A Silver Slugger Award winner last season, Pena prefers not to dwell on his early-season struggles or think about whether he is back to last year's 46-homer form.
"The key is to actually get better at [hitting] as I go along," Pena said, "and to actually be more consistent at it. ... So I feel great right now, but I intend to just keep on working at it."
Pena's power surge couldn't have come at a better time for the Rays, who have had to use a makeshift lineup in the absence of Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford. Timing which, Pena swears, is coincidental.
"By no means did I say to myself, 'OK, you better do this now,'" Pena said. "I think there was just an understanding among us that we need to focus on playing our game. Even though I was doing it before, it just so happens to be working out now."
Pena broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth inning of Wednesday night's game, hitting the first pitch over the right-field fence. The dinger ended up making the difference in the Rays' 1-0 win over Toronto. It was also Pena's 13th home run since the All-Star break. He trails only Chicago's Carlos Quentin in that category.
"He's really playing at a high level right now," Maddon said. "And we do need it."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.