Ramiro Pena came off the bench last week and dropped a bunt down that helped bring in the game-tying run, then he came up to bat in the 10th inning and blasted a two-run bomb that helped complete the Atlanta Braves’ rally past the Nationals in Game 1 of the series, 6-4.
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 he 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 he 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 Sunday after getting his first start at third base in the series finale, but he 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.”
JANISH SENT DOWN: Paul Janish was sent on a rehab assignment to the Triple-A Gwinnett Braves. He was serving as a DH in extended spring training games prior to the assignment after offseason shoulder surgery.
FINALLY, SOME RUN SUPPORT FOR MAHOLM: Paul Maholm had seen the Braves post a record of 2-8 in his 10 starts against Washington before he got the win Sunday. He allowed just four hits and was taken out with two outs in the eighth as he improved to 3-0.
“He’s pitching unbelievable. He threw a great ballgame (against us),” the Nationals’ Ian Desmond said. “He was working efficiently, throwing first pitch strikes, getting ahead. His team gave him a big lead early, and that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
BRAVES LOVING JOHNSON: Chris Johnson may not have been the big name in the trade with Arizona that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta. But Johnson, who also came to the Braves in the deal, had four hits in five trips Sunday and is now hitting .405.
“I like him. I think he was a good pickup,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said of the Braves’ acquisition of Johnson.
INJURY REPORT: RHP Cristhian Martinez (right shoulder inflammation) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 7 ... 1B Freddie Freeman (sprained oblique) was injured April 6 and placed on the 15-day DL on April 7. In a tweet, Freeman said, “Obviously I am upset, but I will use these 15 days to get fully healthy.” ... LHP Jonny Venters (left elbow sprain) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 27. He will be shut down for four weeks and isn’t expected to pitch again until late May or early June. He had to leave a spring game against the Tigers on March 26, and he received a platelet-rich plasma injection from Dr. James Andrews on April 2 after an MRI was inconclusive. ... C Brian McCann (right shoulder surgery in October 2012) had a frayed labrum repaired and a cyst removed. As of April 11, he was serving as a DH in extended spring training games and is playing long toss from a distance of 180 feet. He won’t be cleared to catch until April 16 and will begin a minor league rehab after that. He is not expected back until late April or early May ... RHP Brandon Beachy (Tommy John surgery in June 2012) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He hopes to be ready to return to the rotation by late June. He has had no setbacks, and he likely will begin a minor league rehab in late May.