Rays not too concerned over rising K's
Pena, Upton, Longoria among league leaders in strikeouts
NEW YORK -- Offensive numbers are up for the Rays this season, but so are strikeouts, particularly for Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, who rank second, third and sixth, respectively, in the American League for the most punchouts.
Entering Sunday's game against the Mets, Pena had 89, Upton 77 and Longoria 65.
Pena, who leads the American League in home runs with 22, doesn't think about the number of strikeouts he has on the ledger, taking the K's in stride.
"I think it's always been a part of my game," Pena said. "I obviously would love to reduce them. The one thing I don't want to do is make them an issue, because that's when they increase.
"The most important thing for me is to just help the ballclub out, whether it is scoring a run, driving in a run, playing some defense. I'd rather focus on how many runs I'm helping to produce."
Pena does not want to become a defensive hitter at the plate, even if he has two strikes.
"I know what my role is," Pena said. "But my pursuit is always to become a better overall hitter. Now my swing, which I've had since I was a little kid, I know it's a little aggressive. It's prone to swinging and missing. At the same time, it might produce some extra-base hits. So it's a give and take. Do I really want to change my swing? Probably wouldn't be a good idea."
Instead of worrying about striking out less, Pena's daily goal is to find a way to become better at putting the bat on the ball without wholesale changes.
"My intent is actually very small," Pena said. "It's never to hit the ball out of the ballpark. It's to see the ball as deep as I can and put the bat on it. But I'm wired a certain way where I'm probably not going to take an easy swing even when I'm thinking about taking an easy swing."
Pena also pointed out there are many times when striking out is a better alternative than hitting a ground ball, which might turn into a double play.
"One of my buddies, I asked him his approach to hitting," Pena said. "Actually, he's a pretty good hitter, but I'm not going to say who he is. He said, 'You know what, I go up there, I see the ball and I swing hard, because, you know what, if I strike out, it's an out. If I ground out, it's an out. If I pop out, it's an out. I'm out. So it's an out. So I'm just going to keep being aggressive.'"
Upton said nobody likes to strike out, but at the end of the day, it's still an out.
"Whether it's a flyout, a groundout or a stikeout, an out's an out," Upton said. "Obviously there are situations where you don't want to strike out and you'd rather put the ball in play."
Upton said he occasionally alters his approach with two strikes by broadening his strike zone.
"Maybe some pitches you might not swing at early in the count, you swing at when you're down in the count hoping to stay alive," Upton said.
Upton might not like striking out, but he understands that taking his three and sitting down will forever be a part of the game.
"My dad told me a long time ago, 'You're going to strike out a whole bunch more,'" Upton said. "[I've] come to find out, he was right."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.