Thursday, April 14, 2011
Posted: April 13, 9:22 p.m. Updated: 12:04 a.m.
By Patrick Mooney
HOUSTON Carlos Pena has been wearing a kind of cast inside his glove. That way his right thumb doesnt snap all the way back. He just feels the vibrations.
The thumb bothers Pena when hes buttoning his dress shirt, so you can imagine how it feels when he stops a bullet throw at first base. He isnt about to play without the guard, but still feels like hes getting closer to healing.
Theres always a risk-reward (for) every single time a balls thrown at you, Pena said. I thought we were on the right track there for a couple days: Boom! A ball hits me again and Im like: Here we go, two steps back.
This is something that the Cubs are going to have to monitor because as manager Mike Quade said the Gold Glove first baseman will take a pounding over there. The Cubs know how long these issues can last.
Derrek Lee injured his thumb on Opening Day 2010 and it lingered long enough that it required offseason surgery. Lee never really let on how much it hurt, but his offensive numbers across the board dropped one year after being one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League.
Aramis Ramirez looked lost at the plate before he went on the disabled list last June with a left thumb contusion and by July was still hitting under .200 for the season.
Pena who is relentlessly optimistic and strongly believes in the power of positive thinking does not see it like that. But it has to be part of the reason why he is hitting .185 with zero home runs and 10 strikeouts in 27 at-bats.
He wants to play and makes no excuses, Quade said. I love that.
Pena landed awkwardly and bent his thumb back while making a defensive play on April 4. Given almost all of Wednesday night off, and with no game Thursday, hell essentially get a 48-hour window to rest, which he thinks will help.
Pena will turn 33 next month and is working on a one-year deal. He is the big free agent in a new city but insists that he doesnt feel the weight of having to go out there and prove himself.
Pressure? Pena said, repeating part of a reporters question. Thats not the word. Its the desire.
Its impossible to watch the Cubs regularly and not notice how many teammates Pena talks to in the clubhouse, or how often he goes over to the mound to grab the rosin bag and give his pitcher a moment to breathe and calm down.
Even when hes struggling, he comes to play, Quade said. He likes to play and he understands the importance of every aspect of the game.
When a guy doesnt get off to a great start, some of the rest of his game goes south because his minds not there. This guy understands (how to) compartmentalize.
The Cubs can live with the strikeouts. Pena did that 163 times in 2009 and still finished tied for the American League lead with 39 homers after missing the final 25 games of the season with two broken fingers.
Pena is someone whos admitted that he has a tendency to think too much. But he isnt down on his first nine games. Hes not obsessed with the outcome yet, just focused on how he feels at the plate and figuring out why that was a good at-bat, or a bad one.
Pena sprinted for a base hit Tuesday night on a ball that was hit right into the teeth of the defensive shift. He will play through the pain, but believes he will really only be at full strength when hes focused on the moment.
(Sometimes) we get caught up in the emotion, Pena said. When you bring all that (baggage) with you on your back, youre not 100 percent.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.