Wily comfortable with Mo time in CF
By Michael Silverman
Thursday, May 4, 2006 - Updated: 07:47 AM EST
Some fans might be confused, but that indeed was Wily Mo Pena settling comfortably under a fly ball for the first out of last night’s 7-6 Red Sox loss, hit by Toronto’s Alex Rios to medium center field.
Even for a big guy, Pena looks a lot more at home playing center than he did in right, especially at Fenway Park. Five of his past six starts have been in center, including his past two starts at Fenway.
After a series of misplays in right during the Sox’ first homestand, Pena has done a good job of making the blunders distant memories. His steadily improving at-bats have not hurt his cause, but the return of Trot Nixon (groin) and continued absence of center fielder Coco Crisp (broken finger) have allowed the Sox to play him at a position better suited for him at the time being.
“Center field, it’s a little more easy here,” said Pena, who was 3-for-4 last night with two RBI and again was solid in the field. “Right field, when the ball hits the corner . . .”
He still works out every day at both positions. One day, he ran out to the Green Monster to take some fly balls in left, but “they waved me away, back toward center.”
“Right field, you just have to learn to play it,” Pena said. “(First base coach Bill Haselman) hits ground balls down into the corner, and I just like to see how it moves. Sometimes I pick it up, sometimes I just watch it to see how it rolls. And I talk to Trot a lot. He’s been playing there for so many years. And a day game, in right field, it is difficult, the sun.”
Getting a read on a ball in center is easier than either of the corner outfield positions because the ball is hit more directly to center, but the flip side is that the center fielder has more room to cover than either of the other outfielders.
That is where Pena’s athleticism comes into play. For someone who bears more resemblance to Lawrence Taylor than a prototypical center fielder, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Pena is more lightfooted and quick than one might think.
“I look too big to play center field, but I can run a little bit,” said Pena, whose career fielding percentage after 94 starts in center is .985, much better than the .966 he’s registered in 110 starts in right.
“He’s a big kid. He would be a hell of a football player,” manager Terry Francona said.
Pena’s playing time at any outfield position certainly will take a hit once Crisp returns in the middle of the month, but until then, center field is home sweet home.