Maddon Has Second Thoughts About Pena

Manager Joe Maddon has never shied away from doing unconventional things with his lineups and this season he is considering hitting slugging first baseman Carlos Pena in the two-hole. Also inside: Maddon still thinks there is time for the team to get ready despite a slew of minor injuries, there is one less competitor for the back-up catcher job and Jeremy Hellickson is not a sabermetrics guy.

INSIDE PITCH

Maddon has second thoughts about Pena in batting order

The Rays are known for thinking outside-the-box and doing unconventional things.

And as they consider ways to assemble a batting order that best maximizes the additions of Carlos Pena and Luke Scott to their returning core, they are willing to look way out there.

Specifically, batting Pena, much more of a prototypical cleanup hitter, in the No. 2 spot.

There are several components to the plan unveiled by manager Joe Maddon and used several times this spring:

--Pena is a high on-base percentage guy (career .352) and the Rays like the idea of him batting behind Desmond Jennings and in front of Evan Longoria to get the lineup flowing, noting teams have gotten away from the old-style table-setting No. 2 hitter.

--Pena's batting average has been poor the last three seasons (a composite .216) and the pull-hitting left-hander should get better pitches hitting in front of Longoria, and should benefit from more favorable defensive alignments if Jennings is on base as teams can't over-shift against him.

--Batting Pena second allows Maddon to maintain the lefty-right balance he prefers, as Jennings and Longoria are right-handed hitters, and the other leading candidate for the No. 2 spot is B.J. Upton, who is also right-handed.

If they start with Jennings, Pena and Longoria, the middle of the order would include left-handers Scott and Matt Joyce, switch-hitting Ben Zobrist and Upton.

"Just an interesting thought," Maddon said.

Pena, who laughed when he first heard of the plan from reporters, quickly warmed, especially if it helps foil the shifts.

"I dig it," Pena said. "It's awesome, him messing around like that and fearlessly doing things that may not be the norm and not be afraid to do so. ... I appreciate that."



Joe Maddon is not yet worried about the slew of minor injuries, however, he is cognizant of the effect they could have on the team's preparation for the 2012 season.

NOTES, QUOTES

Maddon knows Rays can't simply flip switch in opening day

--Manager Joe Maddon had some concern that the growing list of minor injuries could become a major problem if it limits the Rays from getting their starting unit on the field enough to be ready for the opening of the season, especially since they play 16 of their first 22 games against Yankees, Tigers, Red Sox, Angels and Rangers. "I don't want to be faced with the moment where you have to just try to turn on the switch right at the very end," Maddon said. "That normally does not ever work. So I don't want us to be that group. But I still think there's time to do this the right way."

--RHP Alex Cobb received a firsthand reminder of how much depth the Rays have in starting pitching when he was optioned to the minors in the first cuts of the spring. Cobb was 3-2 with a 3.42 in nine games for the Rays last season and recovered well from August surgery to remove a blood clot and part of his rib. But with six starters ahead of him, the Rays sent him out to prepare for the Triple-A season. "It's frustrating," Cobb said. "I told them basically it stinks to be in this organization at this time. But if I wasn't in this organization I wouldn't be the pitcher I am and I might not have had the opportunity to be the pitcher I am. So it's Catch-22."

--CF B.J. Upton and LF Desmond Jennings were thankful to avoid serious injury after a scary collision chasing a fly ball in a March 14 game. Jennings returned on March 16, the Rays expect Upton back soon. "That's something that can end people's career," Jennings said. "We got to do a better job of avoiding that situation. It's a pretty scary situation to be in."

--C Robinson Chirinos was knocked out of the competition for the roster spot when he sustained a concussion after being hit on the mask with a foul tip on March 12 and was sidelined indefinitely. Stephen Vogt, Chris Gimenez and Jose Lobaton are the remaining candidates.

--RHP Jeremy Hellickson doesn't buy into the sabermetric argument that his 2011 success was more the result of good fortune than good pitching, based on his major-league best .223 Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP). "Yea, I just got lucky on the mound," Jeremy Hellickson said dryly. "A lot of lucky outs."

--SS Hak-Ju Lee needs more experience after spending most of last season at advanced Class A Charlotte, but he made an impressive in showing in his first major-league camp before being sent down. "The beginning of spring training was really good for me," Lee said. "I know how to play like a big-leaguer."

BY THE NUMBERS: 71 -- Number of Rays players, coaches, staff members and front office executives who had their heads shaved off as a fundraiser for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation that also served as a team unifying event.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "After that look he had going on, great. That was a rough look." -- Principal owner Stuart Sternberg, after manager Joe Maddon had his long brown/red/blond hair shaved off as a fundraiser for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

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