Pena spells comedic relief for Royals
Perfect ninth done in fun, but shortstop won't switch spots
KANSAS CITY -- For all you fans who think Tony Pena Jr. would make a terrific pitcher, he has two words about where he sees his future.
"Playing short," he said.
Pena brightened up the Royals' otherwise drab 19-4 shellacking by the Detroit Tigers on Monday night by answering the S.O.S. for an emergency pitcher.
He made it look easy, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth inning. He sprang off the mound for Ryan Raburn's high hopper, gunning him out, barely. Pena slipped a third strike past future Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez, then got Edgar Renteria to fly out to left.
"It was tough, though," Pena said. "You just have to go out there and not think about it. That makes it easier."
Using a free-and-easy motion, Pena threw 12 pitches -- eight for strikes -- and clocked 90 mph-plus on the Kauffman Stadium radar gun.
Manager Trey Hillman wanted to save his bullpen arms after Jimmy Gobble couldn't get through the eighth, and needed help from Leo Nunez, who faced three batters.
Pena had pitched some as a kid in the Dominican Republic, and has fooled around with breaking pitches during pregame warmups.
"He has an above-average arm," Royals third-base coach Luis Silverio said. "His uncle, Ramon Pena, was a pitcher who was up one time with the Tigers, and he even threw one pitch like him -- sidearm."
Pena, or "T.J." as he's known, went into the assignment with the idea of helping out the team, sure, but with something else in mind.
"The one thing I knew is that I was going to have fun with it. I told Bucky [catcher John Buck] that I might shake him off once or twice," he said.
And he did.
Gobble, in his misery, found Pena a good distraction.
"You know, he came in there and threw strikes," Gobble said. "He had a good sinker, a good slider -- slider-curveball-slurve, whatever you want to call it -- but it was nice."
Did Pena provide a grin for Hillman on a grim night?
"Was it funny getting our butt kicked and losing, 19-4? No. Was it better to lose 19-4 than 19-0? Yes," Hillman replied. "And was Pena a bright spot where it provided a little comedy relief because he was so effective? Yeah. I mean, typically, position players want to pitch, and pitchers want to hit."
Pena has lost his regular shortstop job to Mike Aviles, and is hitting just .152. Maybe Pena should try pitching for real.
"I've heard that many times, especially back home in the Dominican," he admitted.
OK then, might he consider a career change?
This time he had a one-word reply: "No."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.