With Jose Iglesias up in the big leagues and Yamaico Navarro on the disabled list, the PawSox are missing their top two shortstops. Fortunately, Drew Sutton, Nate Spears, and Hector Luna are all capable of playing the position.
And in an emergency, there’s always Tony Pena, Jr.
(photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
The 30-year-old relief pitcher spent the first 9 ½ years of his pro baseball career playing shortstop and appeared in 150 games at that position for the Kansas City Royals in 2007. But a .228 career batting average (.248 OBP/.300 SLG) led to a conversion to the mound in the middle of the 2009 season.
“Growing up I pitched more than I played shortstop, but I always liked playing shortstop more,” Pena told me. “I got signed as a shortstop and made it to the big leagues, but I had hitting issues. Then I broke my hamate bone and things didn’t go as planned. So they asked me if I wanted to try pitching. I wasn’t happy at the time, but I decided to give it a try and see how it goes. Everything went fine and here I am.”
Pena is tall and thin at 6’2”, 180 pounds, and throws with a whip-like delivery.
“We changed his arm slot a bit,” said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur. “He was a little too low early in the season and we’ve brought him back up. His fastball has good run from this slot and his breaking ball is much better. His slider has a lot of break to it from this arm level.”
“My motion is considered low three-quarter sidearm,” Pena said. “That’s always been my natural arm angle. At shortstop you throw from every arm angle, and this is where I feel most comfortable and have better command of my pitches.”
Last year in his first full season as a pitcher, Pena went 3-2 with 6 saves and a 4.13 ERA for Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno in the San Francisco Giants organization. This season with Pawtucket, he’s 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA in 6 relief appearances.
“I had him in winter ball this year down in the Dominican and that’s where I got my first look at him and I was very impressed,” Sauveur said. “I like his stuff and I think the kid could pitch in the big leagues one day – I really do. I’m not saying I’m a scout, but I like him. His personality shines and I think he’s got some pitching ability. It’s just a matter of him learning how to pitch.”
Pena’s father, Tony Sr., was a major league catcher for 18 years who made 5 All-Star appearances and won 4 Gold Glove Awards. When Tony Jr. was between the ages of 9 and 12, his father played for the Boston Red Sox.
“I remember running around in the clubhouse at Fenway,” Pena said. “They had Clemens, Mo Vaughn, Boggs, Greenwell – it was fun being in there. They used to let us play in the clubhouse during the game so I have a lot of good memories.”
One of Tony’s most memorable games in the big leagues came against the Red Sox as he had a pair of triples (off Curt Schilling and Joel Pineiro) as Kansas City’s Opening Day shortstop in 2007.
Does he miss being an infielder?
“I miss it sometimes,” Pena said. “I’ll see plays where I think, ‘Man, I could have made that play.’ Last year I ended up playing some shortstop during the season. I started out pitching for the first four months of the season and I ended up playing some short because they had a couple of guys that got hurt.”
Hmm, sounds familiar. He should probably have his infielder’s mitt ready just in case.
(FYI…If you want to know more about Tony Pena Sr., read this 2003 story by Joe Posnanski. In a word…phenomenal.)
* * * * *
The PawSox are missing three of their best offensive players due to injury (Ryan Kalish, Yamaico Navarro, J.C. Linares) and their best defensive player is up in Boston (Jose Iglesias). Despite the talent drain, Pawtucket has won 3 straight games after beating Gwinnett on Monday 9-2.
Shortstop Drew Sutton was the star as 27-year-old switch-hitter homered from both sides of the plate for the second time in his professional career (also 2008 in Double-A). After a slow start, Sutton is putting up monster numbers for Pawtucket as he’s batting .333/.410/.574 with 12 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 HR in 28 games. Sutton is batting .408 (31-for-76) in his last 19 games.
* * * * *
Former PawSox 1B/OF Aaron Bates was officially activated by the Rochester Red Wings yesterday.
His first game since spring training lasted 18 innings and 5:05 as Rochester beat Louisville 7-6 in the longest game in the history of Frontier Field.
How did Bates do? Believe it or not, he didn’t get in.
I guess after waiting 6 weeks for a chance, what’s another 5 hours right?
* * * * *
After 30 games, Lars Anderson ranks 2nd in the International League in walks and has an excellent OBP at .406.
But he still has not hit a home run after 103 at-bats.
“It’s been peaks and valleys for me personally,” Anderson told me. “I think the team has been doing pretty well so that’s good. It’s tough man – it’s a tough game. I’m think I’m pretty hard on myself sometimes. I’m just trying to have a consistent approach both mentally and physically.”
That means trying to make consistent hard contact and not trying to hit the ball out of the park. Or does it?
“You know what’s funny?” Anderson said. “The two times that I remember trying to hit a home run this year I’ve crushed it, but they’ve been foul balls. So maybe I should try more often.”
I’d love to hear from you. The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard
And I have finally joined Facebook. Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.