KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Carlos Pena wasn’t signed by the Houston Astros because of his .197 batting average or 19 homers last year.
The former Rays first baseman was brought in to be a team leader, the kind he became for Tampa Bay in 2007 when he hit 46 homers for a perennially downtrodden club. One year later, Pena hit 31 home runs to lead the Rays to their only World Series.
“When you look at his career, you see first that he is a true professional and a real leader,” first-year Astros manager Bo Porter said. “When you have a guy like (Pena) on your ballclub, it only makes things better. He can lead in a lot of ways.”
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Pena, who signed a $2.9 million, one-year contract with the Astros this offseason, hit his first home run for Houston on Saturday in a 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Astros starter Dallas Keuchel pitched two scoreless innings, and Philip Humber allowed one run in three innings. J.D. Martinez added a homer and two hits for the Astros, who committed four errors on a windy day.
Kris Medlen, slated to start on opening day for the Braves, went three innings in his second start of the spring and allowed one run. Freddie Freeman hit his second homer and Joey Terdoslavich went 4 for 4 to raise his average to .643.
Pena is one of Houston’s few veterans and is expected be the club’s primary designated hitter during its first year in the American League. He was noted for being a team leader from his first day in Tampa Bay, and that’s what the Astros are looking for with a young team expected to have a dismal season.
Pena had been with the Rays since 2007 except for a stop with the Chicago Cubs in 2011, and he has never hit for a high average. But he is a power hitter with a good eye and said he isn’t paying attention to his numbers this season. He has more responsibility, he said, in trying to prevent a third straight season of 100 or more losses in Houston.
“It’s going to take time to get comfortable, but I have felt comfortable from the start here,” Pena said. “It was nice to finally get a homer, but I am not looking at numbers and I am not comparing anything to Tampa Bay. We won there and we are going to win here. I can’t put pressure on myself and get so amped up that I can’t concentrate. That’s not the way to play this game.”
Pena said he has already put last year’s .197 batting average behind him. He is off to another slow start this spring, but his clubhouse presence has been vital to the inexperienced Astros.
“He did a lot to help Tampa Bay turn itself around,” Porter said. “He has a great body of work to show what he can do.”
Freeman’s homer was the only run Humber gave up. Humber, expected to be in Houston’s starting rotation when April rolls around, said he felt fine.
“All I want to do right now is throw strikes,” he said. “The ball was coming out fine, it just was that (Freeman) got around on it. I don’t mind coming in as a reliever. In spring training it is the same as starting a game.”
Medlen, who went 10-1 with a 1.57 ERA for the Braves last season, allowed only Pena’s home run and had a special cheering section in the crowd. His first child, Max Michael, less than a month old, was at the park to watch his dad pitch for the first time.
Medlen said Max got a “little fussy” and was gone by the time he gave up the homer.
“I feel fine,” Medlen said. “It’s kind of all downhill from here.”
Medlen has been experimenting with a knuckleball and threw one in the game but it was a bit high. Just a work in progress, he said.
NOTES: LHP Mike Minor will make his second start when the Braves host the Tigers on Sunday. Minor is scheduled to go three innings. … Former Braves OFs Ralph Garr and Brian Jordan will join the club as guest instructors starting on Sunday.