Carlos Pena will fight through the pain

Carlos Pena will fight through the pain

Thursday, April 14, 2011
Posted: April 13, 9:22 p.m. Updated: 12:04 a.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Carlos Pena has been wearing a kind of cast inside his glove. That way his right thumb doesnt snap all the way back. He just feels the vibrations.

The thumb bothers Pena when hes buttoning his dress shirt, so you can imagine how it feels when he stops a bullet throw at first base. He isnt about to play without the guard, but still feels like hes getting closer to healing.

Theres always a risk-reward (for) every single time a balls thrown at you, Pena said. I thought we were on the right track there for a couple days: Boom! A ball hits me again and Im like: Here we go, two steps back.

This is something that the Cubs are going to have to monitor because as manager Mike Quade said the Gold Glove first baseman will take a pounding over there. The Cubs know how long these issues can last.

Derrek Lee injured his thumb on Opening Day 2010 and it lingered long enough that it required offseason surgery. Lee never really let on how much it hurt, but his offensive numbers across the board dropped one year after being one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.

Aramis Ramirez looked lost at the plate before he went on the disabled list last June with a left thumb contusion and by July was still hitting under .200 for the season.

Pena who is relentlessly optimistic and strongly believes in the power of positive thinking does not see it like that. But it has to be part of the reason why he is hitting .185 with zero home runs and 10 strikeouts in 27 at-bats.

He wants to play and makes no excuses, Quade said. I love that.

Pena landed awkwardly and bent his thumb back while making a defensive play on April 4. Given almost all of Wednesday night off, and with no game Thursday, hell essentially get a 48-hour window to rest, which he thinks will help.

Pena will turn 33 next month and is working on a one-year deal. He is the big free agent in a new city but insists that he doesnt feel the weight of having to go out there and prove himself.

Pressure? Pena said, repeating part of a reporters question. Thats not the word. Its the desire.

Its impossible to watch the Cubs regularly and not notice how many teammates Pena talks to in the clubhouse, or how often he goes over to the mound to grab the rosin bag and give his pitcher a moment to breathe and calm down.

Even when hes struggling, he comes to play, Quade said. He likes to play and he understands the importance of every aspect of the game.

When a guy doesnt get off to a great start, some of the rest of his game goes south because his minds not there. This guy understands (how to) compartmentalize.

The Cubs can live with the strikeouts. Pena did that 163 times in 2009 and still finished tied for the American League lead with 39 homers after missing the final 25 games of the season with two broken fingers.

Pena is someone whos admitted that he has a tendency to think too much. But he isnt down on his first nine games. Hes not obsessed with the outcome yet, just focused on how he feels at the plate and figuring out why that was a good at-bat, or a bad one.

Pena sprinted for a base hit Tuesday night on a ball that was hit right into the teeth of the defensive shift. He will play through the pain, but believes he will really only be at full strength when hes focused on the moment.

(Sometimes) we get caught up in the emotion, Pena said. When you bring all that (baggage) with you on your back, youre not 100 percent.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”