Apr 14, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Ramiro Pena (14) fields a ground ball during the second inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
In an offseason of big moves, the Atlanta Braves' signing of Ramiro Pena as a free agent in December drew little if any attention. But the utility infielder has already more than proven his worth and the Braves are just two weeks into the season.
"What a pickup," said manager Fredi Gonzalez.
Pena, 27, spent eight seasons in the New York Yankees organization, but had just 313 at-bats over parts of four major league seasons. He got into just three games a year ago, spending almost all the season in Triple-A.
But Braves' general manager Frank Wren had good reports on the native of Mexico and signed him for $550,000 -- just $60,000 over the major league minimum.
Pena's value has already exceeded his modest salary.
The switch hitter had a key bunt single as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning as the Braves rallied to tie the Nationals on Friday, then won the game in the 10th inning with a two-run homer after staying in the game at third base.
But it wasn't the first time he had come through for his new team or even the second. He had two-run hits in back-to-back games against the Cubs last weekend while playing shortstop with Andrelton Simmons sitting out two games.
Pena also got a start in place of Simmons on Saturday against the Nationals and had two hits and a walk. He was hitless on Sunday after getting his first start at third base in the series finale, but was still hitting .333.
Because of his versatility defensively and switch hitting, Gonzalez calls Pena a "prototypical National League player."
Of course, he had been stuck in the American League with the Yankees before this.
"If this guy had played in the National League his whole career, he'd be a household name," Gonzalez said. "Over there you're playing in the American League and backing up Derek Jeter and Cano and A-Rod, it's tough to get in the game. Where here in the National League, the game will dictate a double switch, a pinch hit, go in there for defense, that kind of stuff."
"It feels good," Pena said of his early contributions with the Braves. "I have to believe more in myself sometimes. The good thing is the manager believes in me, he trusts me."