Pena in the early going is a valuable backup catcher for the Reds

Rich Mancuso

Brayan Pena wanted to extend his stay with the Detroit Tigers last year. However, free agency took him to Cincinnati as the Reds were in need of a good and veteran backup catcher. Pena, though, has started in four of the Reds six games. His role has become more important now with Devin Mesoraco rehabbing with an oblique injury.

And, his veteran leadership is helping a revamped pitching staff. Right hander Matt Latos and left-hander Sean Marshall are on the disabled list. And two key cogs of the bullpen, Jonathan Broxton and closer, Aroldis Chapman are on the comeback.

About the pitching staff getting back to health, he said Sunday after the Reds took the finale of a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citi Field, “It’s a slow process.  I think all of us, we believe in the team we have here. We understand we have some big boys coming, great pitchers coming.”

As Pena said, it’s a waiting process. And when the Reds get their pitching back to speed, perhaps a 2-4 start will be in the books. Most baseball experts have picked the Reds to be a major part again of the race in the National league Central division.

He is personable and enjoys talking to the media, especially when he gets to play against teams in New York. Cincinnati makes another trip the Big Apple in mid July, after the All-Star break and visits the cross-town Yankees for a three-game series.

There was a time during the off-season when Pena, the 32-year old native of Havana Cuba was by his phone in Kissimmee Florida. He heard that the Mets may have been looking for a backup catcher to compliment the youngster Travis d’Arnaud.

The Reds became the winners. 

“I know my role,” he said. I know when Darren comes back I go back to my role. Right now I’m taking advantage of my opportunity.”  But, he has been getting on base and also throwing out a runner or two, something that has left an impression on rookie manager Bryan Price.

“I feel like I’ve belong here my entire career.  I know a lot of the guys. The team chemistry is great. I miss Detroit, great teammates and friends. But the fact I am here now, I am very excited and happy.”

In the ninth inning Sunday, with the Reds holding a slim lead, Pena got a rare chance. After singling up the middle off Mets reliever Jose Valverde, Pena took off on a 3-2 count. The throw from d’Arnaud was late and Pena had his first stolen base since July 21, 2010, when he was with the Royals.

“It’s a 3-2 count and I am going,” he said with a smile.

However, there were no smiles two weeks ago at a spring training game against the Royals in Surprise Arizona. That was the game which eventually put Chapman, the Reds closer and fastball artist from Cuba, on the disabled list.

Pena was behind the plate. The Royals’ Salvador Perez hit a liner to the mound that Chapman could not avoid. He fractured his nose and had to require surgery above the left eye. Chapman never lost consciousness but was on the ground and needed immediate attention.

It was a scary moment and the incident went viral, also making headlines in Cuba. The spring game meant nothing and was cancelled. More so, Pena was the first on the scene. It is the job of a catcher, a risky position and one who is up close with the catcher.

 “I never seen nothing like that, only heard of something like that,” recalled Pena. “You are close range, behind home plate. First reaction is to be the first responder.  We are very close. We are good friends, both from Cuba.”

Pena has been in contact with Chapman and visited him prior to and after surgery at the Good Samaritan medical Center in Arizona.

 “He’s very good, doing a lot better.  His rehabbing process is a slow one and I am happy he’s ahead of schedule. “The sooner Chapman returns, the Reds will feel more confident with their pen.

And, the Reds are very confident with Pena behind the plate.

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