04/30/08 11:10 PM ET
Pena not worried about slump
Slugger focuses on improving game, thinks he'll come around
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Despite being one home run off the American League lead, the 29-year-old Rays first baseman has not homered since April 12, and he took a .200 average into Wednesday night's game against the Orioles.
Given the fact that Pena signed a three-year, $24.125-million deal in January, some have speculated he is feeling the pressure brought on by the big deal. Pena smiled when asked about such pressure.
"There are other things out there that maybe you don't want to enter your mind," Pena said. "Like other people's expectations. Like the presumed pressure of a new contract. Those are things that come into play if I focus on them. ... My intent is to keep my focus on, 'Hey, go out there and play baseball.' All that matters is what you feel, not what other people are expecting or feel about you."
Perhaps Wednesday night was a step in the right direction, as Pena lashed a two-run single to right field in the Rays' five-run seventh inning. Still, it was his only hit in five at-bats, keeping pace with his season average.
Pena had one hit in Tuesday night's game, but hit the ball hard three other times.
"It's one of those things where I've felt great the last week and a half," Pena said. "I made some little subtle adjustments. I'm hitting the ball hard. You look at the scorecard, it might not reflect how I'm feeling at the plate.
"[Tuesday night], the only hit I got was the worst hit of the day. So sometimes it doesn't tell the truth. And when I made outs, they were probably the best at-bats of the day. That ball I hit to center field was crushed. I thought it was a home run off the bat, beautiful contact on an offspeed pitch."
One difference from the beginning of the year is the fact Pena is hitting in the fourth spot behind B.J. Upton, rather than in front of him in the third spot. Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn't believe the change has made a difference.
"He's been getting a lot of soft [stuff] from righties and lefties," Maddon said. "I think [Evan Longoria has] kind of shown he can protect him a little bit."
And Pena doesn't feel out of sync hitting cleanup.
"That's where I hit most of last year until the end," Pena said. "I liked hitting third -- it worked for me -- but again, it's one of those things you tell yourself, 'Why even worry about it?' It doesn't do me any good when I get into the box."
Pena rationalized about where he is and where he will be eventually.
"Remember, it's a long year, so I try to stay focused on what really matters," Pena said. "A baseball season is a cumulative effort type of thing. A hit in September is the same as a hit in April. ... In reality, 10 hits in April are going to be worth the same thing in September. So I try to keep the perspective so I can relax and go out and play."
Pena knows how he needs to approach the place he's at if he wants to reach his desired destination.
"I just need to play baseball, enjoy myself, and good things will happen," Pena said. "I know one thing. It certainly will not happen if I worry about it."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.