Notes: Pena busts out of slump

Notes: Pena busts out of slump

DETROIT -- Well after Monday's 8-3 win over the Red Sox had ended, after Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena had finished with a postgame radio spot following two home runs, he returned to the clubhouse and found Jeremy Bonderman and Troy Percival waiting to congratulate him.

Bonderman had earned a win in a game in which he faced the bases loaded and no one out in the fourth and escaped without a run. Percival had lost a save opportunity to a three-run eighth. It's support like that, Pena said, that makes it easier for him to handle the roller-coaster that his hitting this season has become.

"I don't know what I would do if I didn't have these guys talking to me every single day and backing me up," Pena said. "It's amazing."

He's had the ups and downs his whole career. Pena is the same player who broke a 2-for-28 slump with a 6-for-6 game last May, then fell into a 1-for-20 slump. He entered Sunday mired in a 3-for-40 skid. With Monday's performance, he's now 4-for-7 in his last two games -- two home runs and two doubles.

Three years into his Major League career, he's learning to deal with the streaks. Asked whether he accepts them, he wouldn't go that far.

"It's hard to accept them," Pena said, "but I understand them."

Both of his home runs came on fastballs that he timed right and pulled down the right-field line. His two-run drive off Red Sox reliever Blaine Neal left the field in a hurry but wasn't a sure homer until it tucked just inside the foul pole, breaking a 3-3 tie in the sixth. His home run off left-hander Alan Embree in the eighth was more of a line drive, landing in the tunnel between the pole and the new right field grandstand.

"That was just unbelievable for our team," Bonderman said.

Making it sweeter for Pena was that it came against the team he grew up following while growing up in Haverhill, Mass. He said he knew his parents and sister were watching back home.

So why do games like that seem to follow a skid? In this case, Trammell thinks it's a matter of confidence.

"Yesterday he was feeling a lot better about himself with two hits," Trammell said. "I think that was helpful. We all wish we could snap our fingers and everything would fall into place. It doesn't work that way."

Pena is learning how it works.

"It's a matter of understanding what's really important, keeping it in perspective, and understanding it's a long season," Pena said. "It really doesn't matter what anyone has done in the past. What matters is what you can do today to help this ballclub. That's hard to do for a lot of players to do because we have pride."

Guillen back, Young ailing: Just when the Tigers regain their All-Star shortstop, they're wondering when their All-Star designated hitter will be healthy again.

Carlos Guillen came into manager Alan Trammell's office Monday and showed off his right knee, the swelling reduced from the tendon he tweaked behind it. He subsequently returned to the starting lineup after being held out of Sunday's game.

Trammell said it's the second time this season Guillen has experienced swelling in the knee, which underwent ACL surgery last September. He experienced similar symptoms a few weeks ago on the artificial turf at Minnesota before members of the medical staff reduced it.

"The only thing that worried me," Guillen said, "is when it was swelling, my knee felt weak. But when it goes down, I get my range of motion, everything back."

When Dmitri Young will get his health back isn't quite certain thanks to the least wanted visitor to the Tigers clubhouse. Welcome back, flu.

Trammell rested Young on Sunday and initially wrote him into Monday's lineup in the fifth spot. After seeing and hearing from Young, however, Trammell wrote him out, replacing him with Marcus Thames and moving Rondell White from left field to DH.

Brandon Inge, also battling the flu, missed Saturday's game before returning Sunday. Nate Robertson battled a similar illness for two starts that he said sapped his energy, especially at Minnesota. Unlike Inge, whose illness has largely been an upper respiratory matter along with a fever, Young's virus has been more severe.

"My whole body aches," he said. "I gave it my all [Saturday], but my all stunk."

Speaking of illness: When Trammell heard the symptoms that Brewers ace Ben Sheets has been suffered lately -- dizziness, nausea and inability to focus -- he wondered whether Sheets could be going through the same illness Trammell suffered last year. When Trammell read the diagnosis, he was sure.

Like Trammell last year, Sheets has been diagnosed with vestibular neuritis, an inflammation of a nerve in the inner ear caused by a virus. Unlike Trammell, it's apparently the second time Sheets has had the symptoms. He missed a start last summer because of it, but the effects have apparently worsened the second time around.

Trammell missed four games while dealing with the illness, which surfaced during a Memorial Day game against Kansas City. The nausea disappeared after a couple days, but the dizziness lingered off and on until the holiday season.

"I can sympathize with this young man," Trammell said, "and I'm sure that Milwaukee is anxiously waiting to get him back. I hope it's a milder case and that he's OK, but I know first-hand that if I had this when I still playing, I wouldn't have been able to play the rest of the season. There's nothing you can do.

"I hope he gets over it a lot quicker than I did."

Reaction to Rincon: The Tigers already had someone close to them fall victim to baseball's new drug policy when Alex Sanchez was the first Major Leaguer to be suspended out of Spring Training. News that Twins reliever Juan Rincon received the latest 10-game suspension was different.

Rincon has ruled over Tigers hitting over the last few years until the Tigers hit him around for a loss a week ago. Even with that game, he's held Detroit to a .197 batting average for his career while striking out 23 batters in 21 innings.

One Tigers player said he thought he'd noticed Rincon throwing with more velocity, but that wasn't any indication. Many Tigers were surprised, some because they knew him personally, other because they knew him as an opponent.

"He's got good stuff," Tigers player union representative Mike Maroth said. "And now you wonder how much that actually plays into it. But I'm not going to start drawing conclusions into it because of that. Having your name out there, that does the most damage."

Those who know Rincon almost universally agree in their disbelief that he'd knowingly use steroids.

"He never took them," said Guillen, who knows Rincon as a fellow Venezuelan. "I know him. Maybe he took something [over-the-counter that had an illegal substance].

"I was surprised. He's a nice guy, a quiet guy. He likes to work."

Nook back to ninth: Nook Logan looked at the lineup card in the clubhouse Monday afternoon and smiled. "Back at home," he said with a laugh.

Logan's time batting leadoff lasted all of two days. Carlos Guillen's return to the lineup moved Brandon Inge back atop the order and Logan back to ninth. He doesn't mind that, especially with Rodriguez batting second.

"I've got the same approach every at-bat," he said. "Don't put the ball in the air."

Get used to it: Young's injury did not put Bobby Higginson into the lineup for a second day in a row, leaving him in an 0-for-18 slump. Higginson said after Sunday's game that his slump has been hard to shake without regular at-bats, but that he doesn't deserve to play the way he's hitting right now.

Trammell said Higginson will have to get comfortable with the role without many starts.

"I can't say it's totally unexpected, the fact that it's a little bit of a struggle, because he's never done it," Trammell said. "I still think the experience, when it's all said and done, is the right way to go. He's struggling right now, and he's not getting regular playing time, and it's difficult.

"But talk to Dave Bergman about that. It's a very difficult role. The only thing I can tell Higgy or anybody is you have to continue to work and do everything you can."

Minor matters: Dallas Trahern's early-season emergence continued Sunday, when he struck out 11 batters and gave up two runs on six hits in a complete-game victory for Class A West Michigan at Southwest Michigan.

Trahern, a high-school talent drafted in the 34th round last year because he was expected to enroll at the University of Oklahoma, lowered his ERA to 1.52. He has surrendered 33 hits in 29 2/3 innings with 19 strikeouts.

On Monday, the pitching mastery continued in Lakeland, where Jordan Tata tossed a complete-game three-hitter in a 9-0 win at Fort Myers. Tata fanned seven to reduce his ERA to 1.14.

Coming up: The Tigers continue their four-game series against the Red Sox Tuesday night. Maroth earns another start against the team that drafted him out of Central Florida. He's 0-5 in six starts with a 7.16 career ERA against the Red Sox.

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.