Are the Cubs Giving Up on Carlos Pena Already?

By Tony Andracki

During the offseason, the Chicago Cubs’ biggest splash in the free agency market was signing first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year deal.

At the time, nobody could be too upset by the deal. They didn’t really overpay (though some pessimists will say they did) and the Cubs were getting a much-needed lefty power bat as well as a great clubhouse guy and a fantastic fielder. Plus, apart from Tyler Colvin, Chicago had no first baseman they wanted to see take 140+ starts over there, and Colvin’s ideal defensive spot is in the outfield.

However, there was the batting average issue. Pena hit just .196 last season…in more than 550 plate appearances. Ouch. Definitely a cause for concern.

But, everybody figured he’d be able to pull the average up at least a few percentage points. I mean, nobody’s that bad of a hitter to do that two years in a row…are they?

Pena has been worse in 2011, coming into play Saturday in Arizona hitting at just a .159 clip and for a power-hitting guy, he’s now a sixth of the way through the season without a longball.

Which could explain why Jeff Baker was in the lineup for the second straight day at first base for the Cubs. It’s not unusual to see manager Mike Quade trot Jeff Baker out there at 1B against tough lefties, mainly because Pena struggles against lefties and Baker just absolutely annihilates them.

However, the Diamondbacks tossed Armando Galarraga Friday and Ian Kennedy Saturday. Both righties. Does that mean Baker is in at first and Pena is out?

Not likely. To think so is reading too much into the situation.

Pena’s thumb has been acting up for most of the first month of the season here, and he clearly is struggling at the plate. Sometimes, one off-day is not enough to have a mental break and clear your mind as a player.

Plus, Baker has been hitting the cover off the ball lately. He’s up near .400 on the season (.392) and has four multi-hit contests in the last five, including two hits and a walk Friday night. So, it makes sense for Quade to give Pena another break. For one, it’s a great opportunity for Pena to take care of his ailing thumb. And then he’ll get that break, of course. It’s not like the offense is missing him, especially with Baker’s quality plate approaches.

The only question is…why this series? Why wouldn’t Quade give him this break in the frigid April weather in Chicago? Why in the humid Arizona weather in which balls are flying out of the park (Soriano is going to hit one to California, I swear it)? What better stadium to turn a power hitter around than a park that the ball flies out of?

Not the best timing for this, but then again, I can sympathize with Quade here–the game of baseball doesn’t always allow for things to be planned out perfectly.

But, either way, Pena should be just fine. If he can’t figure this thumb injury out, a DL stint may be possible. But an injury will be the only time you’ll see Pena out for more than a few games.

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