Whoa, Carlos Peña batting second in the Rays lineup?
"It's just an interesting thought," Rays manager Joe Maddon said Sunday morning after moving his power-hitting first baseman to the second spot in the lineup behind leadoff hitter Sam Fuld and ahead of third baseman Evan Longoria, who joined the lineup for the first time this spring and batted third.
It can turn into an interesting practice, too.
Maddon is looking for a high on-base percentage bat to follow Desmond Jennings, who will hit leadoff this season. Peña has a career .352 on-base percentage. His number of career at-bats that have produced a fly ball or line drive (1,719) are more than those that produced ground balls (1,047). He draws walks (101 last season).
"Is it a surprise or strange to see my name in the No. 2 hole? Yeah it is," Peña said Sunday. "But with Joe it doesn't surprise me."
No, this is the manager who intentionally walked Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded and occasionally uses a defense with five infielders and two outfielders on the road to prevent a walk-off hit. Playing it by the book is not part of Maddon's managerial DNA.
"Joe is very smart and very innovative when it comes to everything he does," Peña said. "I wouldn't have a problem whatsoever. He's always had a reason behind everything he does. It's not always the norm. He's not afraid to break from tradition or what someone would traditionally do in that same situation, and that thinking outside the box is something he definitely appreciates. I would always welcome any type of innovative ideas that he might have."
Traditionalists will surely scoff at the notion of Peña batting in a role reserved for a player who is willing to give up an out to move a runner. Maddon said that role no longer exists.
"I think that the traditional No. 2 has gone out the window many years ago," Maddon said. "I don't see it that way, especially in an American League lineup. If you have any kind of productivity at the bottom half, and that happens, sometimes you have that when an eighth or ninth place hitter gets on base a lot, that bleeds into No. 2, and that can be a very fruitful position to knock in points, also. Part of it is setting the table. Part of it is I don't look at it in the traditional way because it's just not there anymore, especially in our division, our league."
Peña's penchant for striking out - no fewer than 142 times in every season since 2007 - doesn't worry Maddon.
"He's also a high walk guy," Maddon said. "You're just looking for on-base percentage right there, and furthermore you can enhance that by having him hit there in front of a really prominent hitter (Longoria). Does that then have (Peña) seeing better pitches? Possibly. And then here comes more batting average along with the discerning eye. He's a good base runner. He's not the fastest, but he's a very good base runner. You look at all those different components."
Ben Zobrist batted second in 58 games last season, producing a .396 on-base percentage along the way.
B.J. Upton's bat came alive in September when Maddon moved him up to second in the order. Upton responded with a .462 on-base percentage.
Maddon said he will still look at those two, since no Maddon lineup is ever set in stone.
"I think there really no surprises with Joe as far as who he puts where," Longoria said. "He's not opposed to trying anything."
Yet, having Peña hitting behind Jennings, who had a .356 on-base percentage with the Rays last season, might force managers to pass on the over-shift that has really caused Peña problems.
Leave it to Maddon to find a way around the shift he made popular.
"He invented it," Peña said, "so he needs to come up the anti-venom."
Peña batted second once in his entire career. It came in 2007, his first year in Tampa Bay and his first year playing for Maddon. Peña said he is willing to try it because he's seen so many of Maddon's unorthodox ideas work.
"I dig it," Peña 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."
Tampa Bay Rays