Chicago Sun-Times
with sports reporters Chris De Luca and Gordon Wittenmyer

Power rising with temperature for Cubs' Pena

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He's still striking out, and he's still not hitting better than .220. But Carlos Pena is looking more and more these days like the left-handed power threat the Cubs believed was worth the $10 million price tag last December.

Since going without a homer and just six RBIs in his first 25 games this season, Pena has 12 homers and 30 RBIs - including three homers in his past five games.

All three have either tied the game or given the Cubs the lead, including Monday night's three-run shot in the sixth that came three batters after Starlin Castro's tying homer off Sox starter Gavin Floyd.

So what's gotten into the former AL batting champ lately?

``There's plenty of factors we could talk about,'' he said. ``We could say weather, we could say getting used to a new environment. But I just don't even go back and try to analyze it too much.

``Instead of looking at what's wrong, I try to always talk about what can I do right? So that has been my attitude. Every day I come in and I'm in the cage with [hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo]. And the work is never done. It's never-ending. I'll be back out there again tomorrow trying to improve myself as a hitter. And, hopefully, I can just keep on contributing for the ballclub and for my teammates.''

It's probably no coincidence the Cubs are 5-2 in the games Pena has played (4-1 in his starts) since returning to Chicago off that 2-8, three-city trip - as Pena's hit the three homers, added two doubles and driven in six runs in those games.

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I agree that Pena seems to have gotten his act together lately. It's about time!! I'll be more impressed if he sustains things and gets a little support from his teammates. Ramirez has occasionally shown signs of waking up, and Castro continues to impress. Beyond that, only Baker and Johnson look like potential professional ballplayers since Barney went down. I still cannot fathom why so many Cubs are absolute suckers for low and outside pitches, especially when they are down in the count, but often at other times as well, such as Hill's whiff with the Cubs fastest man on third and fewer than two outs. Hill let two strikes down the middle go by when any contact would have brought in the tieing run, and then swung at a down-and-out- pitch that no one could reach, except maybe Castro with one of his lunges.What do batting coaches do, and why don't they help players eliminate those obvious faults?

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