Peña makes D-backs debut, Upton red-hot in June
Photo by: G. Norman Lowrance/Getty Images
By Greg Dillard
In search of some pop in the designated hitter slot, the D-backs selected the contract of Wily Mo Peña from Triple-A Reno prior to Tuesday’s series opener against Kansas City.
With Arizona playing six straight and nine of its next 12 games in American League parks, Peña is the likely candidate to serve as the regular designated hitter. On Tuesday, he was penciled into the starting lineup in that spot, batting seventh.
He wasted no time in making his presence felt by crushing a solo homer to deep centerfield in the fifth inning. That blast was Peña’s first big league home run since 2008 and knotted the score at 1-1.
“That was probably one of the more impressive home runs I’ve ever seen,” right fielder Justin Upton said. “That ball was on a line. If it didn’t run into something, it was going to keep going. It was an impressive swing. We hope to get more of that out of him.”
After signing a minor league deal with the D-backs in the offseason, Peña posted a monster first half of the year at Triple-A Reno. In 63 games, he smacked 21 homers, 17 doubles and 63 RBI, while hitting a red-hot .363.
While home runs have always been a part of Peña’s game, he now focuses more on hitting for average.
“I wasn’t thinking about the homer,” Peña said. “I work hard in the offseason just to make contact, to hit for average. The home runs will come. That’s what I was doing, just making contact.”
The D-backs hope those impressive numbers will translate to the Major League level.
“After he hit the home run, they became a little stingier with their pitches,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “He’ll have to make some adjustments on that, because you can see what he does when he gets a fastball out over the plate.”
For more info and pictures of Peña, check out Focus Point: The D-backs Photography Blog
Upton continues hot streak
Since the beginning of June, Justin Upton has been nearly unstoppable at the plate. This month, he is hitting .417 with 30 hits, nine doubles, a walk-off homer, and 11 RBI.
Upton took home National League Player of the Week honors last week when he hit .552 in seven games. He also led the Major Leagues in hits with 16.
Upton’s hot hitting continued into Tuesday’s 7-2 win against the Royals. He collected two more hits, both doubles. In the sixth, Upton’s RBI double gave the D-backs their first lead of the game.
Despite being shut down by Royals’ starter Luke Hochevar early on, Upton and the D-backs’ offense caught fire in the later innings.
“I think we had to make him throw the ball in the zone,” Upton said. “He was throwing a lot of marginal pitches that looked good to us. We were swinging early. That’s kind of his game. That was probably his game plan early on … to get us to swing early at his pitches. Later on, we were able to get him in the zone and get some pitches that we wanted to hit and not his pitches, and we came out on top.”