One night after missing his first home run of the season by an inch or two in Phoenix, struggling Cubs’ slugger Carlos Pena belted two more long shots into the cooling nighttime ether of Dodger Stadium and came up empty again on balls that died at the wall.
“This is such a great ballpark, but it plays so much differently in batting practice than it does after the sun sets,” manager Mike Quade said after the Cubs lost 5-2 to the Dodgers in the opener of a three-game series.
“I hope he takes out of it that he’s taking some real good swings, and the home runs will come. I think he’s made better contact.”
Pena was paid $10 million to look more like Alfonso Soriano so far — .267, 11 home runs – than pitcher James Russell at the plate (actually, Russell’s hitting 10 points better than Pena’s .157).
It’s the lack of home runs that has been baffling. Pena’s homerless April was the first of his career, and he’s just 3-for-22 (.136) overall with men in scoring position.
Monday, with agent Scott Boras in attendance, he was bumped down to the seventh spot in the batting order.
“Pena’s a guy that obviously was never going to be a high average guy,” GM Jim Hendry said of the lefty power guy who hit just .196 last year for Tampa Bay (with 28 homers). “I thought he squared up four or five balls real well at Wrigley Field, and it’s just the nature of our world. We know how April is [there].’
“And when you’re not a high average guy and then you get one or two in the game and they don’t leave the park and you still get a K here or there, all of a sudden …
“We’ve had that with a lot of new guys for whatever reason,” he added, of Moises Alou, Alfonso Soriano, Mark DeRosa and others.
“But it’s still the beginning of May and he certainly has the chance to be a streaky home run guy, so I’m sure he’ll get in that column pretty soon and hopefully get a bunch together.”
Said Soriano: “I’ve seen him hit a couple balls good, so I think that’s a good sign. A couple in Arizona, a couple here today. If he keeps hitting the ball like that, he’ll hit some homers.”