Three starters will rest tonight in the series finale against the Kansas City Royals, two of whom are banged up and one is – or ought to be – tired.
Brayan Pena will make his season debut behind the plate, now fully recovered from knee surgery performed at the end of spring training.
Pena said he has been watching games, film, working in the bullpen and talking to pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and Yadier Molina to come up to speed with the pitching staff. “I knew my role here,” the affable Cuban said before the game. “I won’t be in there everyday but I have to be ready when my name is called.”
Pena got his first at-bat of the 2016 season last night and drove a ball deep but was retired. “That ball (would have been) out of Great America Ballpark (in Cincinnati where he played last year.) I was ready for a Gatorade shower and water in the face (this year’s procedure after a home run). I got in the dugout and Wainwright said ‘this isn’t Cincinnati.’” Pena laughed.
Pena said players like Molina, Buster Posey and others who pile up huge innings behind the plate each year are special kind of players to whom “you have to tip your hat.” No catcher in either league has surpassed the 600 innings that Molina has already played this year, easily exceeding his nearest rival by dozens of innings. Molina started 69 games behind the plate this year, something the Cardinals hoped to avoid when they signed Pena in the offseason.
Pena said he continues to learn from Molina and exploits his good relationship with the future hall of famer for information of handling Cardinal pitchers. Pena said he has also taken ground balls at third and first bases, just to expand his value to the team. “Hey, if Kendry Morales can play right field,” I can do it, he joked.
Although he was starting pitcher Mike Leake’s teammate last year, Pena said he mostly caught Johnny Cueto and was not as acquainted with Leake, who largely likes to call his own game.
Pena was asked if that would be a problem. “I believe in conviction,” he said. “I look at how the hitters react to pitches, I look at the scoreboard, but mostly, I want the pitchers to have conviction in what he is about to throw.”
Leake (5-5, 4.25 ERA) battles Chris Young (2-7) as the Cards go for a split in the four-game series.
Also on the bench but available tonight are Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz. Piscotty has played 622 innings this year and is a little banged up, according to manager Mike Matheny, and in need of a day off.
Diaz, who was struck in the eye with a foul ball off his bat, continues to improve.
My vision is fine. It’s normal,” he said before the game. Diaz said he hit in the cages before the game and is ready if the Cardinals need him. Last night, Diaz jokingly donned Pena’s catching gear and mask as he sat in the Redbirds’ dugout. “You have to have fun and enjoy the game,” he said.
The 25-year-old stayed on his feet after what looked like a crushing blow to his eye, something he did not do consciously he said. “I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about my eye. It’s part of the game. I can take it,” he smiled.
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