Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon loves that Carlos Pena takes nothing for granted almost as much as he loves Pena's productivity since returning to the Majors.
"He's so good for us as a group," Maddon told the St. Petersburg Times. "What he brings is so refreshing in a good way."
A former first-round draft choice who had great expectations placed on him, Pena signed a Minor League contract with the Devil Rays before the season.
"Nothing in my life, ever since I came here from the Dominican Republic, has come easy," Pena said. "When I was little, my brothers, my sister, my mom and dad, we lived in a very, very humble apartment. I remember how happy we were at that moment, with nothing, absolutely nothing. So how in the world will I be upset or mad or ungrateful of all of these blessings that have landed upon me?"
Pena was one of the final cuts in Spring Training but found himself playing for the Rays when designated hitter/first baseman Greg Norton went on the disabled list due to right knee surgery.
Pena has since started 19 games at first base and shown the power he has always been known for, slugging five home runs out of his 14 hits. He still strikes out a lot, but Maddon believes Pena can become a top hitter.
"He's the kind of guy you want to build around," Maddon said. "I'm a developer at heart and I've seen this guy for years, and you see all the ability there. I believe it's going to click and you just want to be the steward when it clicks."
Pena believes Tampa is the right place for him to finally break out and become the player others have always expected him to become. He has worked hard with hitting coach Steve Henderson, focusing on hitting more line drives and going with pitches instead of having to pull the ball.
"It's kind of knowing that the RBIs are going to be there and becoming a master of your emotions," said Pena, who has 15 RBIs. "I know in my heart that 2007 is probably going to be the best year of my career. That's what I feel. That's what I envision. I just look around and I know that. There's something special about this place."
Smoltz looks to one-up Maddux, too: For the first time in 15 years, John Smoltz will face Greg Maddux in a game when the Braves take on the Padres Wednesday night. It's just the fourth time the two hurlers have gone head-to-head, with Smoltz going 2-1 with two complete game victories. Smoltz even has an RBI single versus Maddux in their last matchup.
"It's more or less, the only thing pitchers talk about is how you did against them," Smoltz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It's not whether you beat the team or not. It's what you did against him.
"And forever in [Tom] Glavine's long-lasting memory, I'll have the greatest play ever in the history of the game. And hopefully, something special will happen where I can also make that play when Maddux is at the plate."
Smoltz made a bare-handed play to throw out Glavine on a bunt attempt two weeks ago.
Smoltz and Maddux have combined to win 391 games for the Braves.
"Who could have thought the legacy he would leave?" Smoltz said. "Or who would have thought that the 11 greatest years in my life could be pitching with him?"
Gaudin is a quick learner: Chad Gaudin won for the second time in three decisions, as he pitched eight strong innings in the A's 6-1 victory over the Royals Tuesday night. Gaudin, in the rotation as an emergency fill-in for injured starter Esteban Loaiza, fanned eight and lowered his ERA to 2.40 for the season.
"For a guy who was supposedly filling in ... he's kind of our silent, unsung hero," A's third baseman Eric Chavez told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Hopefully it will be a tough decision (when Loaiza returns whether) to leave (Gaudin) in there all year, because he's deserving of it."
Manager Bob Geren was most impressed with how Gaudin shut down the Royals' running attack during the game.
"Coming into today, (opponents) had 10 steals and zero caught against him," said Geren, who explained that he and pitching coach Curt Young had sat Gaudin down and gone through ways to change that. "Curt shows him a different approach that might work and he did that. I've never seen anyone pick something up in five days and be so successful."
Gaudin quickened the pace on his slide step and the Royals did not steal a base in the game.
Theriot a pleasant surprise for Cubs: In what has been an otherwise somewhat volatile lineup on Chicago's north side, infielder Ryan Theriot has been a pleasant surprise for the Cubs.
"I find ways to get Theriot in the lineup because he deserves to be in there," Piniella told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He's done a really good job, and because of that, I move things around a little bit."
Theriot, while pleased to be in the lineup, knows that he could lose his status at any time.
"Lou's going to play guys he feels will help him win games," Theriot said. "It could be me this week. Next week, it might not be me. If I have a couple bad games, I might not be that guy. But to have that vote of confidence feels pretty good, and it gives you a little more of that confidence you need to perform, knowing that he believes in you."
And, he says, you have to believe in yourself.
"That confidence and believing-in-yourself stuff? That's more important than anything," Theriot said. "You have to go up there and be able to say, 'OK, I'm 0-for-2, it doesn't matter. We're down four or five runs? It doesn't matter.'
"That's the stuff that takes a little while to get, but once you get it, you definitely have an edge on your opponent."
On Tuesday in the Cubs' 4-3, 15-inning loss to Pittsburgh, Theriot had three hits and raised his average to .322.
Guardado happy with BP test: With their bullpen in need of help, the Cincinnati Reds were pleased on Monday when reliever Eddie Guardado tossed live batting practice and came away feeling good.
"It went good. It went real good," Guardado, who is eligible to come off the disabled list May 31 after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery last September, told the Cincinnati Post. "I didn't think I'd be so excited to throw BP, I'll tell you that."
To him it feels like Spring Training.
"I'm 100 percent throwing fastballs," Guardado said. "It felt good coming out. Last year, I would come off the mound and you can see the ball floating up there. I come out (Monday), and the ball (was moving). The big thing (today) is to see how I feel. I'll be a little sore, but good sore hopefully."
Meanwhile, the Reds veteran hurler says he may be debuting a new pitch soon.
"I can tell you this: They asked me when I start throwing breaking balls. I said, 'I'm going to throw sliders, a couple splitties and I might drop in a curve ball,'" Guardado said. "They said, 'You have a curve ball?' I was throwing it, and I said, 'I do have a curveball.' I can feel it snapping, you know? I was like, 'Look at that.'"
DeSalvo overcame first-game jitters: Matt DeSalvo didn't earn a win in his Major League debut, but the Yankees rookie put on quite a show.
DeSalvo left the game with a 2-1 lead after seven innings of work, allowing only one run on three hits and retired 21 of the final 22 batters he faced. The outing was quite a showing considering the nerves he had when he took the mound in the top of the first inning.
"Looking Ichiro in the eyes before the first at-bat," DeSalvo told the New York Times. "I was overwhelmed for a moment there, with the whole majesty."
DeSalvo became the 10th starter used by the Yankees this season, a Major League record for the first 30 games of the season. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, DeSalvo was 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA.
"Coming into this season, I didn't think I would be standing in this locker," said DeSalvo. "But those questions, those doubts, are out of my mind now. It doesn't matter to me."
Facing Seattle Monday night, DeSalvo kept hitters off balance by mixing in his changeup as well as some breaking balls while hitting 93 mph on the radar gun with his fastball.
"I was moving my fastball in and out, and they were very aggressive," DeSalvo said. "That's why I got a lot of popouts. I just pounded the zone with whatever I could bring for a strike."
Pedroia on a tear: Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia is showing why the Red Sox have continued to insert him into the lineup, despite a slow start.
Pedroia is currently the team's hottest hitter. Following Tuesday night's game against Toronto, he has reached base safely in 10 of his last 15 plate appearances, going 8-for-13. The streak also includes his first home run, which he hit Tuesday. The streak has allowed Pedroia to raise his batting average from .172 to .254.
"I knew it was only a matter of time before I got going," Pedroia told the Boston Herald. "I do this every year. It's no big deal. Even when I was hitting .150, I knew I was going to come around. I think everybody else makes more of an issue of it than it really is. "I've been confident for a while. I just wasn't getting hits. That's going to happen."
Helton's back to old ways: Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton is looking like the hitter that made him one of the best players in the National League. The left-handed first baseman has reached base 72 times in his first 139 plate appearances.
He also blasted a 402-foot home run Monday, his third long ball of the season. But it is his on-base percentage that has people talking.
"His (OBP) is amazing," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd told the Denver Post. "But I am not surprised. I really felt like he was going to have a big season."
Helton knows he may not hit 40 home runs again, something he did in both 2000 and 2001. But he still has a lot of extra-base power and knows he can continue to help the Rockies by getting on base as often as possible.
"I can't do everything," Helton said with a smirk when asked about not hitting more home runs. "I am hitting (.389). That's not enough for you? I would probably have three or four more at (Coors Field), but no one's hitting them out there. As it gets warmer, the ball will travel better."
At the plate, Helton's front leg kick has been reduced. However, he says that is not why he is hitting for such a high average and getting on base so much.
"It's not something I think about. It comes and goes," Helton said. "I am in a good place right now."
Pitching's been great, but Gorzelanny's in search of the elusive first hit: Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Tom Gorzelanny, who is scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Cubs, is sitting on an impressive 4-1 record with an ERA of just 2.97.
But teammate Adam LaRoche has one problem with Gorzelanny -- he's hitless. Not for just this season, mind you, but for his entire career.
"I've been working with him a little bit -- as you can tell," LaRoche said with a grin to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "That's why he's still 0-for. But I told him, 'Honestly, I hope I lose. I want to see you start getting some hits.'"
Gorzelanny makes no bones about it -- he's anxious to get a hit.
"It would be a cool to get a hit in any town," he said. "I don't care where I am. I just want to get a hit. It's very frustrating for me," he said. "A lot of guys say, 'Aw, don't worry about it.' And I don't worry about it. I don't take it out on the mound or anything, but it's just one of those things where I want to do my part at the plate as well.
"Plus, guys kid me about it all the time."
The coaches in Pittsburgh think it's just a matter of time.
"His bat path is fine," Pirates hitting instructor Jeff Manto said. "I think his timing is fine. He'll ask, 'How did that look? Did that look all right?' I say, 'Yeah, fine. Just keep on swinging.'
"Something's going to fall. I know this -- he's not going to retire without a hit."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.