|Pena confident he can build on success with Rays|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 21 February 2008 12:52|
The AL comeback player of the year thinks he can put together another strong season for Tampa Bay, even if he doesn't duplicate his gaudy statistics from 2007.
The 29-year-old slugger set team records with 46 home runs and 121 RBIs last year. He also became the first player in major league history to hit 40 or more homers the season after being released.
``Last year was a magical year, no doubt about it,'' said Pena, who in 12 months went from being a non-roster invitee to spring training to a guy with a new $24.125 million, three-year contract.
``But this year there is a blank canvas in front of me, and I intend to paint a beautiful picture. ... It's so funny, I keep telling myself, `Let the kid inside of me play. Get out of the way. Let him play.' And that's what I intend to do. I know if I do that, the picture cannot help but be beautiful.''
Pena homered once in 18 games for Boston in 2006, when he spent most of the season in Triple-A with the Red Sox and New York Yankees. He hit 27 homers and drove in 82 runs for Detroit in 2004, but slipped to 18 homers and 44 RBIs the following season and was released by the Tigers in March 2006.
The Rays, grasping for help at first base, signed Pena in January 2007. He was reassigned to the minors late in spring training, but wound up on the opening-day roster because of an injury to Greg Norton.
To say the least, he's made the most of his opportunity.
Pena also posted career highs for batting average (.282), walks (103), on-base percentage (.411) and slugging percentage (.627).
Pena's 46 homers were 12 more than the previous Rays single-season mark shared by Jose Canseco and Aubrey Huff. He was second in the AL and fourth in the majors behind Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon was even more impressed with the way he finished the season - 26 homers after the All-Star break, tied with Howard for most in the majors, including a club-record 13 in September.
``All I want him to do is approach every day like he did last year. He might not reach those numbers, but he's going to reach something close to it,'' Maddon said.
``You can talk about all the other things, but I'm looking at the plate discipline. I thought he was at his best the last month of the season. If we can just get him to stay there, I'm sure the good numbers are going to follow.''
Pena is confident his game will continue to grow, even if his home run total declines. Before 2007, he never had more than 27 in a season.
``I look at it as like what Joe said: 'Be a complete hitter. That's all I want you to do. Always focus on that. Don't focus on home runs, focus on being a complete hitter. Take your walks. Drive in your runs. Be a line drive hitter.'
``Having said all that, my focus is to enjoy myself, let the kid inside play and focus my approach on every single pitch. The better you do that, the simpler you keep it,'' he said.