Carlos Penas ready to make an impact

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Carlos Penas ready to make an impact

Friday, March 18, 2011Posted: 8:45 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. There are players who can block everything out and break it down like this: See the ball, hit the ball. Carlos Pena is not one of them.

Even two months from his 33rd birthday, Pena can still come across as the engineering student from Northeastern University. There he became a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers, but his career didnt play out like he was some spoiled bonus baby.

Traded to the Oakland As and Detroit Tigers, released by the New York Yankees and a nonfactor for the Boston Red Sox, Pena had to struggle and learn from his mistakes.

Anyone who zooms in on Penas .196 average last year in Tampa Bay misses the overall picture, and not just because his 28 homers and 84 RBI would have led the Cubs in both categories. Hes always had to make adjustments.

So when Pena flew down to Dallas this winter to work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo someone hes known since coming up through the Rangers system he considered it an investment. There were no major mechanical changes or breakthrough moments just some positive reinforcement.

Sometimes we stray away from the simplest form, Pena said. Thats when the talent can actually express itself without any limitations. Sometimes you can over-think things and it could really damage us in many ways, not only if youre a baseball player, but in anything you do.

Over-thinking things cripples your talent. (Rudy) just wanted to bring things back to basics, keep it as simple as possible, so that way natural talent can go out and blossom.

Flowery language aside, Pena is being paid 10 million this year to drive balls into the seats and onto Sheffield Avenue. By his second Cactus League game as a Cub, the Milwaukee Brewers were already putting the defensive shift on him.

The most harm you can do is to allow things like that to all of a sudden change your approach, Pena said. The moment you start trying to mold yourself to be beat the shift and you start trying to push balls that you should be driving to right-center or hitting up the middle (then) youre taking away from your strength.

You have to be willing to quote-unquote sacrifice a couple of hits here and there for the greater good, for the long haul.

There is a kind of Zen philosophy to Penas explanations, and he certainly didnt obsess over results early this spring, when he went 1-for-14 through his first six games.

After going 3-for-4 during Fridays 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, he raised his average to .297. It will be interesting to see if teams shade off him, and how he plays the chess game.

The moment that I let that shift get in my mind, Pena said, they have won.

And maybe it is about the journey. Mike Quade briefly crossed paths with Pena in 2002 as the As first-base coach. The manager senses that Pena is in a better place, where most of this becomes second nature.

He was always one of those guys that took a very thoughtful approach to his game, Quade said. Some guys just come out and wing it. He was never (like) that.

Being a scientist isnt the best thing, but (thats not him). It seems like a real constructive approach to what he wants to get accomplished.

Pena remembers his brief time as a Red Sox near the end of the 2006 season. Joe Maddon his future manager in Tampa Bay brought the shift to the American League East as a tactic to mess with David Ortiz.

(Ortiz) just hit a bullet into right field, right at the second baseman, Pena recalled. Im like: Dude, thats not fair. He (goes): Dont worry about it, youll get it one day. And sure enough, a couple years later, I have like 40 people playing in right.

Now Pena is the established All-Star, the clubhouse leader Carlos Zambrano calls a great guy. Pena didnt have to completely overhaul his game. The .196 label is nothing compared to where hes been.

Theres no feeling your way through it, Pena said. I dont feel like I have a distance to travel to where I want to get.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

No late magic as Cubs shut out by White Sox on South Side

No late magic as Cubs shut out by White Sox on South Side

Aroldis Chapman was in uniform for the Cubs Tuesday night, but Joe Maddon never got a chance to employ his shiny new toy.

After posting late rallies the last two games, the Cubs offense was noticeably absent on Chicago's South Side, dropping a second straight game in this Crosstown matchup 3-0 in front of 39,553 fans at U.S. Cellular Field.

White Sox starter James Shields scattered four singles and four walks in 7.2 innings, using 117 pitches to shut down the Cubs lineup.

The first White Sox hitter of the game scored as Adam Eaton drew a walk and was eventually plated on Jose Abreu's RBI single three batters later.

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks settled down from there, allowing only a solo homer to Eaton in the fifth.

But the wheels came off for the Cubs in the sixth inning as Hendricks departed following two quick outs and a bloop hit from Todd Frazier that glanced off the glove of Anthony Rizzo in shallow right field.

Travis Wood came on to relieve Hendricks, but walked the first three hitters he faced to force in Frazier with the third run of the game.

The Cubs' best opportunity to score came in the second when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Dexter Fowler fouled out behind home plate. After that, only one baserunner reached second base all game for the Cubs.

Kris Bryant said before the game he was itching at another chance to face Shields after the veteran pitcher welcomed Bryant to the big leagues with a couple of strikeouts in the latter's debut last April at Wrigley Field.

But Shields once again got the best of Bryant Tuesday night, striking out the MVP candidate three times in four trips to the plate.

Bryant is now just 1-for-10 against Shields with seven strikeouts.

The Crosstown series moves to the North Side Wednesday night for the final two games.

Cubs go into damage-control mode after introducing Aroldis Chapman to Chicago

Cubs go into damage-control mode after introducing Aroldis Chapman to Chicago

About that heart-to-heart conversation Cubs executives absolutely needed to have with Aroldis Chapman over the phone before signing off on a blockbuster deal with the New York Yankees: The Cuban closer had been sleeping on Monday before getting on the call and didn’t remember anything specific about what chairman Tom Ricketts and team president Theo Epstein said in terms of off-the-field expectations.

At least that’s what Chapman expressed through coach/translator Henry Blanco during an awkward welcome-to-Chicago media session in a U.S. Cellular Field dugout before Tuesday’s game against the White Sox, forcing the Cubs into damage-control mode with a player who began this season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.

Even allowing for the language barrier, this was a completely tone-deaf performance, because reporters asked Chapman about that phone conversation at least six times, getting versions of “It’s been a long day” and “I just got here” and how the Cubs expect him to help this team win the World Series.

“My confidence right now is coming from within,” Chapman said when asked about facing the backlash. “Everything is going to be fine. I’m just going to be the best person I can be. I understand what I went through. And I’m a better person now.”

[RELATED: Cubs make business decision to look past Chapman's domestic violence suspension]

Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and reportedly fired multiple gunshots inside his South Florida home during that domestic dispute last October, though the Broward County State Attorney’s Office ultimately did not press criminal charges.

Sitting on the same bench the day before, Epstein had strenuously explained the organization’s rationale, answering questions for more than 33 minutes and recognizing that putting Chapman in a Cubs uniform would provoke all sorts of conflicting emotions.

This was a bad look for a franchise that always talks about doing things the right way, being extremely thorough and believing in character. Blanco sat next to Chapman in a difficult spot, as a quality-assurance coach who played 16 years in the big leagues but doesn’t have any professional training as an interpreter.

“It appears that there was something lost in translation,” Epstein said, “or (Aroldis) didn’t have the recollection immediately.”

Chapman is 28 years old and a four-time All-Star lefty who has been in The Show since 2010. Epstein said Chapman felt “nervous” and directed reporters to the one-on-one pregame interview he did later in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, who had also been in the middle of the group scrum.

“I’ve grown tremendously from that time,” Chapman said, according to an ESPN transcript. “I’m with my girlfriend still, with the family, and I feel that I have absolutely changed as a person. I’m working to be a better person.

“(Now I remember) because they just asked me in the previous press conference what the owners asked me. One of the things they did ask me was about being a better person and being a better neighbor to people. And that’s something that I think that I am now, much more so.”

The Cubs used Alex Suarez, an assistant director in player development and international scouting, as their translator during the MLB-approved call, which also included Barry Praver, Chapman’s agent, who also showed up on the South Side for an introduction that went completely off the scripted talking points.

“(The phone call) happened and it was real,” Epstein said. “We talked to him about the incident and made sure that statement (released to the media on Monday) reflected his real feelings.

“Tom laid out the exact same standards that he lays out to everyone in spring training. He said extremely clearly: ‘Look, Aroldis, I tell all the players this in spring training. It’s important that you hear it. And I need to from you on this. We expect our players to behave. We hold our players to a very high standard with their behavior off the field.’

“That’s exactly what he said: ‘We need to know that you can meet that standard.’ And Aroldis said: ‘I understand. Absolutely, I can.’”

Kris Bryant shakes off collision, embraces opportunity to DH

Kris Bryant shakes off collision, embraces opportunity to DH

Kris Bryant knew exactly who the Cubs were facing Tuesday night in the second game of the Crosstown series.

In a way, Bryant had this game circled on the schedule. 

White Sox starter James Shields was on the mound (as a member of the San Diego Padres) as the starting pitcher for Bryant's big-league debut in April 2015.

Bryant finished that day at Wrigley 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

In the clubhouse before Tuesday's game, a reporter assumed Bryant did not want to face Shields, but the Cubs All-Star third baseman immediately corrected that statement saying he was excited to get another shot at Shields.

Bryant was penciled into the Cubs' lineup as the designated hitter Tuesday after banging his head on Tyler Saladino's knee diving into second base in the ninth inning of Monday's game. 

Bryant was a little shaken up after that play, but stayed in the game for the bottom half of the inning.

"Anything with the head is scary," Bryant said. "I was fortunate enough that it wasn't serious. But after that, I felt fine."

For Tuesday, manager Joe Maddon figured it'd be best to give Bryant a half-day off.

"His head took the brunt of it initially, but he also said he hit his hand on the ground," Maddon said.

[RELATED: Cubs make business decision to look past Chapman's domestic violence suspension]

Maddon originially had Bryant in Tuesday's lineup at third base, but thought better of it and changed his mind and put Tommy La Stella at the hot corner.

Bryant entered play Tuesday 1-for-6 career against Shields, including four strikeouts before striking out three times in four hitless at-bats Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.

Bryant admitted DH'ing is a little bit different for him when he's used to the National League game.

"It'd be nice to get out and have fun with it a little bit," Bryant said. "Some of these American League games, it's good for some of us to get a DH here and there.

"It's a little [mental adjustment]. It's tough for us because we don't play DH a lot, so you don't really have anybody to ask here how to prepare for a day like that. But I've done it a couple times. We'll see."