Carlos Pena got the opportunity for the Rangers and Mets see first-hand what the veteran can do  

Rich Mancuso

Carlos Pena was a spring training invitee of the Los Angeles Angels and was released after a month. The 14-year veteran of eight different teams knew a call would come when he went home to Orlando Florida.  This is baseball and the Texas Rangers, a team struggling and with players on the disabled list made the call.

He made his Major League debut as a Ranger in 2001, their 10th pick in the first round of the 1998 draft, so it was no coincidence that he was back to offer veteran leadership for a team that needs to win ballgames. Texas is without Prince Fielder who is out for the season after undergoing surgery to his neck, and the Rangers find themselves at 38-49, two games from the cellar in the Al west.

”You think of all the possibilities…just don’t think it’s the end,” said Pena prior to his pre game stretch Saturday night at Citi Field against the New York Mets. He got the start at first base and snapped a 0-for-20 slump with an eighth-inning double. He is 4- for- 36 (.111) since getting called up from Triple-A Round Rock on June 24.

The Rangers took the second of a three game series from the Mets, 5-3. Pena had a walk and the double.

He prepared, stayed in shape and had this mentality and approach. “I leave it in the hands of God, my prayer, it is your will to continue playing .If nothing comes about be calm and accept and walk away.”

There is cardinal rule though in baseball. A veteran, someone like Pena, who hit 47 home runs and drove in 121 runs with Tampa Bay in 2007, has made an impact on the game. His production diminished the last four years with the Cubs, Blue Jays, Astros and last year with the Kansas City Royals, and with 286 career home runs is 18th among active players.

So when the Angels did not make Pena a part of their roster plans, he did not sit idle. The motivation was to stay in shape and wait for the proper situation. There was no spring training and he has adapted well to old and new surroundings.

At the plate, facing the veteran Bartolo Colon on the mound, Pena grounded out to second in first inning. He worked out a walk off Colon in the fourth and on three pitches flied out to short left in the Rangers’ sixth inning.

Then on a first pitch fastball off the Mets’ Josh Edgin in the eighth, he hit the double that went to the left field corner. It got more interesting in the inning when Pena was gunned down at the plate trying to score from second. Rookie Rougned Odor singled up the middle and Juan Lagares recorded his second outfield assist of the season, second this month as Travis d’Arnaud gave Pena the lane and made the tag for an inning ending double-play.

“It’s a single, I’m just running,” Pena commented about the play.” I see the catcher anticipating a throw. Next thing I see the ball come in and I slide. I hear it was a great throw.  I was going no matter what with two outs.”

Pena heard about Lagares, but was not aware that last year as a rookie the Mets outfielder had 15 assists, third most in baseball.  “I was going to test him… It was perfect,” he said.

He has always thrived on opportunity, and there were no promises made when he signed a deal for the remainder of the season. It is a game-by-game situation, and either way Pena is ready to contribute. Will he be in the starting lineup again on Sunday as the Mets and Rangers play the rubber game of the series?

Manager Ron Washington would not say, but he knows how important the signing of Pena was to his team.     

On Pena’s walk and double, Washington said: “That’s what Carlos does. Once he starts feeling comfortable he will start doing some damage to use. He has reached about 65- bats this year,   had no spring training, left his house, went down to Triple- A,  came here.  We all know what Carlos can do. It may not be what it was when it was his time, but he’s still a threat.”

And there is the approach Pena has for the game. It is something a veteran can relate to his new teammates, including the 20-year old odor.

“Getting some good at bats, it’s always good to see the results,” Pena commented. “Three questions come to mind: Were you on the ball, were you on the pitch, was it right, was it controlled .When I go out to play I said ‘were you on it, was it the pitch you wanted.’”

Because as Pena says “After that, I don’t have more control what happens.”  But, he does have control, especially if the hits come as a starter or off the bench.  Pena expects to start every day because it was so much like that over the years.    

“You know internally what you are doing,” he says.  “You’re here. I feel great.”  And that’s all the Rangers can ask from a veteran as they try to make a losing season become more respectable.