ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 3: Infielder Carlos Pena #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays bats against the Seattle Mariners May 3, 2012 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Carlos Pena's return to our beloved Tampa Bay Rays came with warm smiles and nostalgic memories of past greatness but also a hope that he still had some of that ability left and that he would help power the Rays to another postseason birth and into the World Series.
After all, Pena is the second highest paid Ray at $7.25M, just a mere $250K behind rotation anchor James Shields. We knew the glove and the clubhouse presence were still there but we wanted to know if there was still some juice left in that bat.
It didn't take long to remind Rays' fans everywhere why they loved Pena and to put our minds at ease that he still had some power in his bat. His very first game back with the Rays was dramatic. It was Opening Day and the Rays were hosting the hated New York Yankees and Pena came up with the bases loaded in his first at-bat back with the Rays and launched a grand slam off of ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia. If that was not enough, Pena included a storybook ending walk off opposite-field single to the wall off of the best reliever that the game has ever known in Mariano Rivera.
Pena's first game back was a success: 3-5 with a homerun, walk off hit, and five runs driven in and he would not stop there, hitting another home run in game three as the Rays swept the Yankees to start the 2012 season. Welcome back home, Carlos Pena.
Pena finished the month of April off exactly the same way he started it with another 3-5 performance. Pena was using the entire field and driving the ball with authority and putting smiles as bright as his on Rays fans everywhere:
But the calendar turned to May and we all knew that Pena's .377 BABIP from April would not last. Some regression was in order but the month of May has been more than simple regression, it has been a disaster of a month thanks to more strikeouts, some bad luck, and the inability to go the other way.
Pena's month of May in comparison to April has looked like this:
He only has three extra base hits this month and has nearly doubled his pop up rate. Here is a look at his spray chart for the month of May:
As you can see, Pena is pulling nearly everything rather than using the entire field. Pitchers really are not working him any differently, using the same approach they have for years: away-away-away. This coupled with striking out at an alarming rate and having a 23.1% infield fly ball rate are what have been killing his month of May.
It is only half of a month and a veteran like Pena has to know by now what his problems at the plate are. Pena has to get back to hitting the ball to all fields and driving it with authority. We know what Pena can do. We have seen what Pena is capable of, not only in past seasons but just this past month, and I certainly hope he makes the proper adjustments soon so we can all put a smile back on our face when he steps into the batter's box again.