MILWAUKEE -- Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena took a hiatus from his ongoing rehab assignment to check in with the big league staff in Milwaukee on Monday. And while he's still not eligible (or ready) to come off the 60-day disabled list, the veteran backstop spoke effusively about his offensive progress.
"The way I've been swinging the bat and hitting, it feels great," Pena said, with emphasis on that last word. "Now I feel super confident that I can play, not because I'm putting up good numbers, but just the fact of how my body and my knee feels. Now I can drive the ball and not drift the way I was."
The strength has come from extensive work to rehab his left knee, which was surgically repaired in early April. Pena made a brief return in late June before landing back on the DL when inflammation persisted. But while he's worked himself into a good place at the plate, Pena acknowledged that catching is still presenting some issues.
He caught four innings in a Gulf Coast League game on Friday but has otherwise been used exclusively as a designated hitter since beginning a rehab assignment on Aug. 19. Pena, who will return to the team's Florida complex on Tuesday, expects to increase his exposure behind the plate in the coming week.
It may be, however, that his role on the big league club will be mostly as a pinch-hitter. The Cardinals are already carrying two other catchers and are considering calling up another once rosters expand in September. That would lessen the need for Pena to be used behind the plate.
"Obviously, I just want to come back here," said Pena, who is eligible to come off the DL on Sept. 5. "I want to be here and help the team. That's why I'm doing everything in my power to rehab and come back stronger."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.