Cubs

Carlos Pena's still waiting for the power surge

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Carlos Pena's still waiting for the power surge

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Posted: 9:59 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Carlos Penas Zen philosophy allows him to look at the big picture. Where others see zero home runs, he takes snapshots of the good at-bats. He insists that it will all balance out.

So on a frigid April night, fly balls will die at the warning track against the cold winds blowing in off Lake Michigan. Welcome to Wrigley Field.

Hopefully in July Im going to get some off the end (of the bat) that are going to be gone, Pena said, and nowhere else would they have been homers. So Im just waiting for (that) reward.

Pena is being paid 10 million this season to drive balls into the bleachers and onto Sheffield Avenue. But the Cubs cant wait for karma in a zero-zero game.

Pena saw the defensive shift on Monday against the San Diego Padres. Thats nothing new. He got that for years in Tampa Bay and the Milwaukee Brewers lined up that way in the second game of spring training.

Pena dropped a perfect bunt on a 1-2 count and sprinted to first base to begin the seventh inning. It was a risky, heads-up play that ultimately didnt factor into a 1-0 victory in the 10th.

Hes bound and determined to take some base hits that way, manager Mike Quade said. We need him to hit homers. But he can contribute a whole bunch by getting on base.

Pena wants to get in the opponents head as much as they want to mess with his concentration. The Padres called off the shift in the ninth inning, but Pena pointed out that they moved into it after strike one he flew out to left on a first-pitch fastball that at-bat.

I dont know if its a secret weapon, Pena said, (but) there will be times where I think its just the right play.

Pena isnt a one-dimensional player. His Gold Glove defense at first base helps the middle infielders. Hes a calming presence for the pitchers on the mound. He was a foundation piece for a Rays team that won 277 games and two division titles across the past three seasons.

Pena is a good acquisition for us. Hes been firing us (up) every game, Carlos Zambrano said. Every day he comes ready to play and hes a gamer. (He) wants to win.

The past four years Pena has finished with 46, 31, 39 and 28 homers and averaged 102 RBI per season. The Cubs are banking on him producing like that.

So far Pena has generated only one extra-base hit on April 3 and is batting .143 with runners in scoring position and .077 against left-handers.

Though Pena doesnt want to make excuses, part of that .214 average can be explained by the right thumb injury thats forced him to wear a kind of cast inside his glove while playing first base.

Still, Penas seeing the ball well enough to draw walks and that patience has pushed his on-base percentage to .346. Hitting home runs is what he does. He believes things will heat up soon enough.

Im very careful with the way I analyze myself, Pena said. I know Im swinging the bat pretty well, even though the numbers may not say so. I have to be wise when it comes to that and not let that stuff affect my confidence.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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