PENA = Present Explosive Nature Absent
I feel bad even writing anything without a positive spin about Tampa Bay Rays First Baseman Carlos Pena. It is painful to think that the Rays Republic might be headed for uncharted waters with Pena in the coming weeks if his bat doesn’t respond in a surging manner. That we could even consider the collective thoughts of putting another body at his First Base position seems insane to me right now. Makes me almost sick to my stomach thinking that the charismatic Rays icon who had me all giddy with anticipation back in 2007 could possibly be spending his last season in a Rays uniform and surrounded in a cloak of offensive struggles.
Usually in a contract year you see the future Free Agent player hit for a higher average, or just blow you away with his overall abilities and you then do not even question not trying to sign the guy again. But right now, Pena is making a departure notice a bit easier with his slumping lumber and the Rays Front Office could be prudent in exploring unforeseen options for 2011. And that has me in a quandary trying to dissect and analyze his downward spiral this season. Pena’s first class defense is still churning and burning on all cylinders, but the Home Run torque he once had in his might ash bat is slowing becoming….well expendable and unfortunately predictable.
It is difficult to consider this Rays team, that Pena has taken firmly under his long wingspan as his own, without seeing him firmly in the line-up every night. How long do we take the inconsistencies with the skyrocketing strikeout amounts and the rally-killing hitting into the shift with more regularity and look into another direction. It is difficult for me to think of another person or player even manning the First Base bag for the Rays, even on a short-term assignment. But that is why the Rays have power guys like Dan Johnson, Chris Richards and Leslie Anderson in our farm system…They are available explosive ammunition for the Rays offensive weapon.
When is enough, enough? Could Rays Manager Joe Maddon pull the plug on Pena in the coming days, or will Maddon wait until Pena himself or someone from the Rays Fourth floor brings the option up? Maybe what makes this idea seen remotely unfathomable is the fact Pena is truly one of the nicest and fan friendly guys in Major League Baseball. Pena is a Rays poster boy for giving back not only in the Tampa Bay community, but also to Haiti and his home country of the Dominican Republic with an undying regularity and vengeance.
Maybe it is the fact Pena is one of the best dressed MLB players who has an impeccable G Q mentality about himself and his wardrobe that I envy at times. Maybe it is the simple fact that his smile and his exploding dimples just makes the churning within me about his offensive frustrations all seem to melt away with a simple glance and head nod. Sometimes it just seems that you could pop Pena up at a podium during a National disaster and he could make it all seem a bit better with that great smile and those dimples doing that dance they do so well. Okay, maybe that last one is a bit far fetched, but you get my reasoning here. He is a likable guy who you want on your team.
The Rays currently have their former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner in a troubling slump where he is hitting at the sub basement level from the usually alarming Mendoza Line. Rays fans have not been as outwardly vocal towards calling out Pena for his recent unimpressive hitting level as they were with former Rays Vinny Castilla or Greg Vaughn. Some have mentioned it in passing, but no vocal storm warning or approaching turbulence has been sounded as of yet. But you can hear a few rumbles and grumbles in the background, and the storm clouds might be forming for Pena in the distance.
When is enough, enough? It is easy for Rays fans to Pena’s past as ammunition to keep him in the Rays lineup because of the rationalization of how can you bench a star like Pena who less than a year ago celebrated his first All-Star gig just because his bat has suddenly become frozen solid? Next thing you know dogs and cat will be living together….total World anarchy! It has been a while since we have seen some masterful shots by Pena, who is currently mired in a 1-20 skid right now.
I like Pena as a person, a player and as a symbol to our community. He has been tall shoulders above any of our past Rays clubhouse leaders as a upfront, vocal and consistent positive influence to all who step within the Rays confines, but something is flawed right now within his baseball persona. Something is eating Pena’s stroke away and his batting average is sinking quickly before our Rays eyes. His May monthly batting average was a paltry .120 ( 12 for100) with 3 Home Runs and 37 strikeouts and a sub par .250 Slugging Percentage. We have steadily watched his average hit a extreme landslide slope from a presentable .247 to a shocking .175 in the last 31 days.
With a decrease in your batting average has come other obstacles that block his forward progress. Pena currently leads the American League in strikeouts with 58, and his last homer against Boston starter Clay Bucholz on May 24, 2010 was his first within the home confines of Tropicana Field since April 28th. Last season, Pena was hitting Home Runs at a clip of one in every 12.08 at bats and became the first player in the live ball ear (since 1920) to lead his league in HR despite missing at least 25 games to end the season. The past accolades since Pena first put on a Rays uniform in 2007 are more than impressive. From his Roberto Clemente Award, to his first All-Star selection in 2009, Pena has always been a class act and a personable guy who always seemed to know what was right for this Rays squad.
It pains me to say it out loud, but maybe it is time for Pena to sit for a bit. Time for reflection, dissecting his hitting stroke and maybe re-adjusting this stance to hitting to the opposite field to take away this dang shift that is employed against him with regularity. Bunt the ball, half swing for a single through the hole at Third and Shortstop, anything to get the defense to play him honestly again. Maybe the Rays need to bring up Dan Johnson from the Durham Bulls to bring some extra power back into the fifth position in the Rays lineup. We are not giving up on Pena, just letting him reallocate his talents and focus full time on regaining his plate composure.
Great player know when enough is enough. And I truly think Pena knows he is struggling and not seeing the ball with extreme clarity right now. Pena is a fighter and might be trying to fight through this slump to keep his team in contention. But even with the most honest intentions here, something is lacking in the current Pena puzzle. Hopefully it is a phase that is nearing its conclusion because I would hate to see Pena go out like this because he has been a awesome class act for the Rays and deserves to go out with an loud explosive bang, not a single whimper.