07/07/08 12:30 PM ET
Pena adds bunting to his repertoire
Slugger demonstrates new way that he can exploit overshift
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The Rays first baseman was pleased with his accomplishment on a couple of levels. First, it led to the Rays' first run. Next, it sent a message to opposing teams that in the future he will take what's given him.
Ever since Pena's 2007 success, more and more opposing teams are using a shift against him when he bats, resulting in plenty of hits turning into groundouts. Pena said he's been asked many times about why he hasn't bunted more in the past.
"First, I was a little reluctant because of my finger," said Pena, citing the broken left index finger he suffered earlier this season. "But I said to myself Sunday, 'You're leading off here, you're down by two runs, clearly they have a big shift, guy throws a sinker, changeup fading away.' So I'm thinking this is a high-percentage thing. This is all going through my head."
Pena took the first pitch then pushed a bunt down the third-base line and looked almost as startled as Royals third baseman Esteban German as both watched the perfect bunt roll without a play being made.
"It ended up being a changeup," Pena said. "That was a rush. Bunting is not an easy thing to do. And to be honest with you, it gets your heart racing. You have to breathe and relax."
Now that Pena has successfully placed a bunt, there's a good chance he will strike again in the future.
"If it's there, I will," Pena said. "It's a smart play. You pick your spots. You try to be smart with it. [Sunday] was actually a good spot, leading off an inning. But maybe even with runners on base. We're trying to win some ballgames here."
Pena entered Monday's game against the Royals hitting .232 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs. He said he's feeling a lot better at the plate and looks for big things in the second half of the season.
"I feel great, I'm swinging better," Pena said. "It's a combination of things. It's just realizing it's a team effort. Everybody's contributing. Nobody feels like they have to do it all. I think my finger is doing a lot better. And I'm relaxing a lot more."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.