Carlos Pena's still waiting for the power surge

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Carlos Pena's still waiting for the power surge

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 9:59 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Carlos Penas Zen philosophy allows him to look at the big picture. Where others see zero home runs, he takes snapshots of the good at-bats. He insists that it will all balance out.

So on a frigid April night, fly balls will die at the warning track against the cold winds blowing in off Lake Michigan. Welcome to Wrigley Field.

Hopefully in July Im going to get some off the end (of the bat) that are going to be gone, Pena said, and nowhere else would they have been homers. So Im just waiting for (that) reward.

Pena is being paid 10 million this season to drive balls into the bleachers and onto Sheffield Avenue. But the Cubs cant wait for karma in a zero-zero game.

Pena saw the defensive shift on Monday against the San Diego Padres. Thats nothing new. He got that for years in Tampa Bay and the Milwaukee Brewers lined up that way in the second game of spring training.

Pena dropped a perfect bunt on a 1-2 count and sprinted to first base to begin the seventh inning. It was a risky, heads-up play that ultimately didnt factor into a 1-0 victory in the 10th.

Hes bound and determined to take some base hits that way, manager Mike Quade said. We need him to hit homers. But he can contribute a whole bunch by getting on base.

Pena wants to get in the opponents head as much as they want to mess with his concentration. The Padres called off the shift in the ninth inning, but Pena pointed out that they moved into it after strike one he flew out to left on a first-pitch fastball that at-bat.

I dont know if its a secret weapon, Pena said, (but) there will be times where I think its just the right play.

Pena isnt a one-dimensional player. His Gold Glove defense at first base helps the middle infielders. Hes a calming presence for the pitchers on the mound. He was a foundation piece for a Rays team that won 277 games and two division titles across the past three seasons.

Pena is a good acquisition for us. Hes been firing us (up) every game, Carlos Zambrano said. Every day he comes ready to play and hes a gamer. (He) wants to win.

The past four years Pena has finished with 46, 31, 39 and 28 homers and averaged 102 RBI per season. The Cubs are banking on him producing like that.

So far Pena has generated only one extra-base hit on April 3 and is batting .143 with runners in scoring position and .077 against left-handers.

Though Pena doesnt want to make excuses, part of that .214 average can be explained by the right thumb injury thats forced him to wear a kind of cast inside his glove while playing first base.

Still, Penas seeing the ball well enough to draw walks and that patience has pushed his on-base percentage to .346. Hitting home runs is what he does. He believes things will heat up soon enough.

Im very careful with the way I analyze myself, Pena said. I know Im swinging the bat pretty well, even though the numbers may not say so. I have to be wise when it comes to that and not let that stuff affect my confidence.

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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Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

Cubs will have Ian Happ one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa

MESA, Ariz. – After an impressive camp where he looked like the next homegrown Cubs hitter to roll off the assembly line, Ian Happ will go to Triple-A Iowa and get ready to make his big-league debut, or perhaps build his value for a trade-deadline deal.

Along with Happ, the Cubs assigned outfielder John Andreoli and catcher Taylor Davis to minor-league camp on Monday while optioning pitchers Eddie Butler and Rob Zastryzny to Iowa, cutting their roster to 31 as the Opening Night picture comes into focus.

Happ – the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft out of the University of Cincinnati – batted .417 with five homers, four doubles and 17 RBI in 24 Cactus League games.

"Offensively, what was there not to like?" general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I feel like he hit the ball hard every at-bat for six weeks. It's always fun to see a young guy like that come in and open a lot of eyes."

Happ, 22, is a switch-hitter who can play second base and the outfield, skills that could help him escape from Des Moines once the need arises on the major-league level.

[MORE CUBS: How Cubs came to fully believe in the legend of Kyle Schwarber]

Though there are questions about Happ's defense, Theo Epstein's front office and Joe Maddon's coaching staff clearly value versatility and trust young talent, moving Addison Russell to shortstop in 2015 and elevating rookie catcher Willson Contreras last season.

Stay tuned to see when/if the Cubs will have a spot at Wrigley Field, but Happ looks like he will be on a fast track.

"Whenever you're in Triple-A, you're always a call away," Hoyer said. "Sometimes it happens quicker than you think. We never expected Addie would be up in April of that year, and he was. I feel like with Willson last year, if you had asked me in spring training – would he be up in June? – I probably would have thought it would be more like a September call-up or something like that.

"You never know. Things happen. When you have good players in the minor leagues, sometimes it speeds up on you a little bit."