Pena grabbing hold of opportunity with Reds
Backup catcher impressing with work ethic, attention to pitchers
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's in Brayan Pena's job description to understand his pitchers -- what they want to throw, when they need a breather, and how they want to approach certain hitters.
But the Reds' newest backstop needs no prodding. Simply put, Pena -- a self-described "people's person" -- is genuinely invested in learning what makes his pitchers tick.
The Reds signed Pena to a two-year deal in the offseason, and in return they got a veteran catcher more interested in grooming a pitching staff and developing relationships with those pitchers than inflating his own personal numbers.
"He knows how to relate with people, which I think is one of those essential skills for a catcher," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "He's been good bringing good, positive energy. He's very easy to like. He's easy to trust as a pitcher, because he's so invested."
"He's trying to figure out everybody, and I think he's done a really good job of doing that," said right-hander Homer Bailey. "He's very open and very communicative."
Pena compared each individual relationship he develops with one of his pitchers to a marriage.
"You're married to five guys, and a lot of guys from the bullpen," Pena joked. "I'm the one who has to learn, and I'm the one who has to make the adjustments."
It's not the first time Pena has switched clubs and gone through the process of learning a new staff. He spent four seasons in Atlanta and four more in Kansas City before backing up Alex Avila last season in Detroit.
During those nine big league seasons, Pena has racked up a .258 career average and 120 RBIs. He's coming off his best offensive season, having hit .297 with a .713 OPS for the Tigers.
"I've been around a little bit now, so I know what it takes for me to prepare myself and to understand what [pitchers'] tendencies are and how they like to go about their business," Pena said. "Everybody is different. Everybody prepares themself in different ways. But it's up to me to make sure they all feel comfortable."
Although starting catcher Devin Mesoraco will see the bulk of the workload behind the plate, Price doesn't plan on pairing Pena with a specific starting pitcher or two throughout the course of the season.
Price sees the switch-hitting Pena as an offensive weapon against certain opponents. Because of Pena's ability to work with the entire staff, Price won't need to limit Pena's playing days to a set rotation.
"He talks to the pitchers every day, and he knows how to lead," Price said. "He's got very strong leadership abilities. He's an excellent addition to our club. I think he really fits what we're trying to do here."
The pitching staff has taken notice, too. Bailey said one of Pena's most helpful traits is just how vocal he is. During bullpen sessions, Pena is constantly chattering, letting pitchers know exactly how their pitches are moving, while offering his own input.
"He gives good feedback on what the ball is doing," Bailey said. "There's a lot of times where we only see where it ends up, but we can't see maybe the tilt of the ball. And he's pretty supportive when he does it, too."
Pena threw out 24 percent of basestealers last season, slightly below the league's average. In his career, he has thrown out 29 percent of runners attempting to steal.
But Pena isn't known for his arm or his bat as much as his work ethic. And in his eyes, his current teammates are on par.
"All these guys, they all work hard, man," Pena said. "It's very easy to fall in love with their work ethic and their work attitude. It's one of those things that you say, 'OK, I'm very excited to be a part of this organization and this group.'"
And for Pena, the Cincinnati organization takes on a bit of added significance. A native of Cuba, Pena grew up a Reds fan -- as many Cubans do because of the club's ties with players like Leo Cardenas, Tony Perez and, presently, Aroldis Chapman.
Understandably, it gives Pena a lot of joy to glance down at his chest and see the script "Reds" emblazoned across his jersey.
"The Reds are one of those teams that has a lot of tradition -- especially in my country," Pena said. "Chapman and I, we were talking about it the other day, and we feel like, 'Wow, this is awesome to be playing here with the Reds.' Everybody in Cuba is so excited for us playing together with the Reds. There's a lot of tradition with this ballclub, and I just feel like I'm blessed for the opportunity."