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August 13, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Wily Mo hopes it’s his time to shine

Wily Mo Pena has always been a guy to excite the imagination — a mammoth (6-3, 230) slugger who can hit the ball a mile. When he hits it, that is. Pena’s road to stardom — one that has taken him through eight organizations — has always been derailed by his propensity to strikeout, and his aversion to breaking pitches. With him, those two factors have always gone hand in hand.
But Pena, called up today to the Mariners to replace Justin Smoak, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list, believes that at age 29, with 13 years in professional ball, he’s learned some things. He hopes Seattle will finally be the place he can stay awhile.
“I think this is my best year,” he said. “I said to myself, it’s like wine, when they’re old, they taste better. I’m getting old, and I think I’ve learned how to hit. It feels so good. This year, I’m hitting like I never have in my life. I was impressed with myself. I just have to do the same thing I was doing down there. Keep doing it here.”

In 76 games at Triple-A this year, combined between Reno in the Diamondbacks’ organization and Tacoma, Pena hit .358 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs. He had a .440 on-base percentage and a .712 slugging percentage for a 1.152 OPS. In 288 at-bats, he had 61 strikeouts, not bad for a guy who once struck out 177 times in 135 games.
“I’m recognizing pitching, making contact,” he said. “I said in my mind, just go up there and make contact. Before, I used to strike out a lot. Everyone see me strike out, walk, home run. My main focus was on less strikeouts, recognizing pitches, take a good pitch and make a good swing.”
And if Pena gets hold of one, it’s going to go out — even in Safeco Field, not exactly noted for the way the ball carries there.
“I knew that was coming,” he said with a laugh. “I know it’s a big park. Everyone was saying, oh, it’s not a big park for you. I’m not worried about a big park. I’m just worrying about being comfortable and doing the simple things to help the team. I’m not thinking I have to hit a home run. No. That will come up. When I was down there, they have some big parks. I just tried to make contact. If I make contact, something will happen.”
Bottom line, Pena wants a chance to get consistent playing time. Will it be in Seattle, or will this be another way station? He’s going to have to earn playing time, but the Mariners are obviously an organization starved for power.
“I’m 29. I think I still have a little bit to give,” he said. “I’d like the opportunity, one year, just to play every day and see what happens. I just want the opportunity. We’ll see what happens here.”
Meanwhile, Mariners manager Eric Wedge said he has recollections of Pena with the Reds and Red Sox.
“Tremendous power, and he has some big-league experience,” he said. “We’ve got him in there tonight and will primarily use him in the DH role when he is in there. We still want to mix-and-match guys. We’re giving (Trayvon) Robinson the day today, (Casper) Wells yesterday. But ultimately we’ll keep running them out there, evaluating them and watching them and let them gain experience. That’s where we are.
“With Smoak, I just saw him again. As I mentioned yesterday, I was hopeful it was just the nose. But it’s a little bit more than that. He’s got a fracture underneath the eye, too. But the good news is it’s nothing too serious, but we’ll still have to give him some time. He’s going to get another opinion, in fact he’s on his way there right now to get another opinion. After that we’ll have a better idea on the timeline.”
Asked if Smoak will have to wear a protective facemask, Wedge said, “I don’t know yet. That will be part of the timeline. We don’t want to do anything risky, obviously. I think we all agree with that. So we’ll have to see how it plays out in regard to what the doctor says tonight as well as what we’ve already heard.”



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