Now we got it directly from the source: the Chicago Cubs’ newest first baseman, Carlos Pena, is all right by going to left…field, that is.
We first heard it weeks back from Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, re-united with the left-handed-hitting Pena a decade after coaching him as a Texas Rangers kid. Pena is most effective with an opposite-field power stroke instead of trying to pull the ball into the prevailing wind blowing in from right field at Wrigley Field.
Cubs GM Jim Hendry thinks Pena can power the ball through any wind, but Pena said at the Cubs Convention he’s just as Jaramillo advertised.
“Some people would say that’s my strength,” Pena said of booming balls to the opposite field. “My troubles were as a pull hitter. Balls I hit in the air are to left and left-center field. So that actually works to my advantage.
“I like it when I’m going the other way with power, with authority. It tells me on the right track. In batting practice I always try to work on that. I know that moves my swing to the best possible place I have.”
In Pena’s best years (other than his cratering .196 of last season), he has an on-base percentage above .350 with 80 or more walks. That would have made him the pace-setter of the majority of Cubs teams during the past 25 years since the on-base masters of 1984 broke up.
“A walk is as good as a hit, if you think about it,” Pena said. “You’re on base. I think sometimes you get caught up in the numbers and forget about the big picture, forgetting about pulling the rope in one direction, which is toward winning. If I’m going to help this ballclub with a walk, that’s going to be very welcome. It’s part of understanding the whole picture.”
Pena was one of the American League’s better all-around players when he was hitting. His first-base glovework has been long renowned.
“It’s underrated,” he said of defense at first. “It’s certainly important. For our infielders to be able to feel confident when they throw the ball over there, it makes them that much better. They feel confident they don’t have to be perfect. I hope I can help them out that way.”
A true comeback season by Pena would add a dimension to the Cubs that hasn’t existed for years — a left-handed bopper. The search for one has screwed up the team in so many ways — Kosuke Fukudome’s futile corkscrew swings followed by Milton Bradley’s petulance as the most mismatched player in Wrigley Field recent history. Pena is an established player who doesn’t have to hit .300 or even .270 to be a huge contributor.
Even if he just gets to .250 with a good on-base percentage, Pena could be Adam Dunn Lite. That will be good enough for the Cubs.