WMP: Catch the fever
Well, we have one of those little mini-legends-in-the-making things going on here. Yes, Wily Mo Pena has only played in three games for the Nationals and only homered twice. But there is a buzz in the clubhouse, no doubt, because this lineup has very few people (0) who you think can consistently change a game with the homer.
Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez have seen this before. Check the gamer in the $.35 edition (as well as on-line) for the following quote from Kearns:
"It's scary. You used to get caught up watching him take [batting practice], just because you were in awe. But then we used to talk about it. He could hurt somebody."
Kearns said that one day at Wrigley Field in batting practice when he and WMP were with the Reds, the fans were going crazy in left field when WMP was taking BP. Just shot after shot. Kearns talks -- and he had mentioned this to me before Pena even got here -- about how Pena hits line drive homers, no high moon shots. His are more like a well-struck 3-iron that goes on a low liner and then has another gear.
That day in Chicago, Kearns and some others were shagging balls in left, and the fans were going ga-ga. "We yelled up to them," Kearns said, "that they better be careful." He wasn't kidding. These balls were not landing softly.
That's the style of homer Pena hit Monday night. He chipped in a couple of singles, too. Drew an intentional walk. All was right with the world. I asked the typical change-of-scenery question afterward. (This is also lifted from the gamer.)
"It's not just about Boston," Pena said. "I learned a lot of stuff there. But that's all I've been wanting for, for this opportunity to play.
"When you sit on the bench, you're not going to show nobody nothing. When you play every day, it's not the same. Now, you go 0 for 4, and tomorrow, you'll be in the lineup - versus if you come off the bench one time every week, or one time every two weeks, you have to do something. You have pressure. 'Let me do something to be in the lineup again.'"
But there is a harsh reality to all this. We know Pena strikes out a lot (though he went five plate appearances Monday night without doing that). But just how much?
Pena first came up in the 2002 season. Since then, including Monday night, he has 1,381 major league plate appearances with 438 strikeouts. That's a strikeout once ever 3.15 plate appearances. For an everyday player, that's more than once a game, which is remarkable.
According to Stats LLC (I bow down to you, oh great Web site), the players who had the fewest plate appearances per strikeout who played in every season from 2002-07 (Pena's career) are Mark Bellhorn (3.45), Craig Wilson (3.61) and Adam Dunn (3.72) (among those who played regularly enough that they qualify to be ranked, which Pena does not). (Aside: Does it seem like a million years ago that Mark Bellhorn was the starting second baseman for the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 2004 World Series? Wow.)
So Pena strikes out more often than the people who strike out the most often in baseball. Uh, wow.
Be ready for something of a wild ride. And in case there was any question about the outfield alignments for the rest of the season, Austin Kearns is not the everyday center fielder. Manny Acta said that was a one-day thing, and he would do it by feel. Read about that here.
And not to totally switch gears, but where is Tim Redding, and who has replaced him in the Nationals' rotation, wearing his uniform?
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