Baseball / Sports

Carlos Pena returns to Rangers to fill hole at first base

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Carlos Pena is proof that a player can come home again, especially when that first home has a gaping hole at first base.

Pena was back Tuesday afternoon in the home clubhouse at Globe Life Park as the starting first baseman for the Texas Rangers, the club that drafted him in 1998.

No team in the majors needed a productive first baseman more than the Rangers, who have seen Plan A (Prince Fielder) and B (Mitch Moreland) lost to season-ending injuries, and Plan C (Donnie Murphy) and D (Brad Snyder) tried their best despite having never played the position in their careers.

Then, there was Plan E (Kevin Kouzmanoff) and Plan F (Jim Adduci), two players who are attempting to come back from early-season injuries.

Pena rates as Plan G. Good grief.

He was out of the game at the start of the season after failing to make Anaheim's roster out of spring training. But he believed an opportunity would present itself, a good opportunity.

It just so happens to be where it all started.

"This is the team that drafted me, a long time ago," Pena said. "It's just crazy. I was looking at a picture of my first at-bat ever, and here it was with a Rangers uniform on. I'm just thrilled to be here, grateful to be here."

Pena, who was signed to a minor-league contract only June 17, made his way to the majors again by batting .333 (8 for 24) with a homer, a double and two RBIs in seven games at Triple A Round Rock. He also played first base with the same aplomb that made him a Gold Glove winner in 2008.

Moreland underwent surgery Monday that reconstructed the ligaments in his left ankle and realigned the bone. He should be at full strength for spring training. Though Murphy has played capably at first base since Moreland was injured, Snyder, an outfielder his entire career, made multiple mistakes.

Included was a throwing error Friday night against the Angels that led to three unearned runs in an eventual Rangers loss. Snyder was designated for assignment to make room for Pena.

"We asked him to come up here and asked him to do something he had not done," manager Ron Washington said. "It's second nature to (Pena)."

Pena, 36, last played in the majors in September with Kansas City, striking out in all three of his at-bats there after batting only .209 with eight home runs and 89 strikeouts in 85 games with Houston.

He hasn't batted higher than .227 since 2009, when he swatted a league-high 39 homers. But Pena wisely used his downtime this spring in the Orlando area, working to iron out his swing, and he also got a positive vibe from Round Rock hitting coach Justin Mashore.

"He talks about being ready to give ourselves enough time to put a good swing on the baseball," said Pena, who turned down a few opportunities to sign with other clubs. "He very persistently insisted in making sure that I was ready, that every single time you step into the box you know what you're up there to do and you have an intent and you're aggressive."

Pena is confident that he can be the player he once was. He just needed to fall into a team's plans, and the Rangers are now on Plan G at first base.

"You could see how everything just felt right without rushing into anything," he said. "My family said, 'This is it. Go do it.'"

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