06/19/07 3:20 AM ET
Notes: Pena not just a pull hitter
First baseman's success due in part to using opposite field
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The Rays first baseman was a last-minute addition to the roster at the end of Spring Training when Greg Norton hurt his knee. Now he has 16 home runs -- including a monster blast Sunday against the Rockies.
"It's funny, it might be repetitive, because I've said it so many times, but I'm just so grateful," Pena said. "I couldn't be happier."
To Pena's credit, he has shown a glowing disposition from his first day in camp, no matter what the circumstances have been in regard to his playing time.
And credit Rays manager Joe Maddon, who from Day 1 touted Pena's power to the opposite field while stressing the need for him to go the other way rather than pulling the ball.
"It's more of a natural thing to pull the ball than to go the other way," Pena said. "But every day, more and more, I feel more comfortable going the other way. I feel more confident I can hit the ball hard from line to line. I don't feel like I have to pull the ball to hit a home run. If you hit the ball line to line, good things will happen. I understand the importance of that. Joe has always preached that."
Hitting against lefties has been the only negative to Pena's season. He is hitting .222 with one home run and six RBIs in 27 at-bats against lefties, while hitting .336 with 15 home runs and 36 RBIs in 140 at-bats against right-handers.
Maddon plans to start Pena on Tuesday against the Diamondbacks, who will be starting left-hander Doug Davis.
"I'm going to be looking at matchup situations," Maddon said. "Like Davis tomorrow. He's actually better against righties than lefties. A real tough lefty, I'd rather give [Pena] the day off. He's swinging at such a high level and he's such an important part of our offense. I think I should give him a shot tomorrow. Well see how it plays out."
Pena has a .227 career average against left-handers and is a .259 career hitter against right-handers, but he is confident in his ability to hit left-handers if he gets his at-bats against them.
"In the past, I've hit lefties incredibly well ... my whole life since I was younger," Pena said. "It's only a matter of getting more at-bats against them. I've had great at-bats and made great contact the last couple of times I've faced lefties."
Baldelli reinjures himself: Rocco Baldelli re-aggravated his strain left hamstring Monday night while playing for the Triple-A Durham Bulls.
Baldelli had just left the batter's box after hitting the ball in the ninth inning when he came up lame.
Baldelli has been on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain since May 17, and he was expected to return to the Devil Rays on Friday. Now the plan is for him to stay in Durham.
Preparing for return: Right-hander Juan Salas, who was suspended on May 7 for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, began a rehabilitation assignment Monday at Double-A Montgomery. Salas is allowed to go on rehab assignment 16 days prior to his suspension being lifted (July 3, if no more postponements).
Maddon pops the question: Maddon proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Jaye Sousoures, on Thursday in Boulder, Colo. Why Boulder? Because it is the location of two of the biggest events of the Rays manager's life -- where he signed a professional contract with the Angels and when he signed on to become a Minor League manager for the Angels.
"We went to one of my old haunts up there, a real cheesy place," said Maddon, who reported she said yes. "I thought the timing was right and the place was right."
The couple has not yet set a date for their wedding.
Sign 'em up: The Rays signed No. 3 pick, right-hander Nicholas Barnese from Simi Valley (Calif.) High School, and No. 25 pick, right-hander Justin Garcia from Western Nevada Community College. The Rays have now signed 17 picks, including 12 of their first 25.
Rocco update: Center fielder Rocco Baldelli, who has been sidelined since May 16 with a left hamstring strain, began a rehabilitation assignment Sunday at Triple-A Durham and went 1-for-3 with a home run and a walk against Indianapolis.
Up next: The Rays will play the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night in the second game of their three-game series in a 9:40 ET contest at Chase Field. Left-hander J.P. Howell will start for the Rays, and he'll be opposed by Davis.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.