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Pena taking to playing small ball

Pena taking to playing small ball

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Tony Pena is in the hunt for the bunt.

New Royals manager Trey Hillman is putting fresh emphasis on the bunt, not only to move along runners but as a way to get a hit.

Pena is fine with the project, as evidenced by his attempt to bunt his way on in Wednesday's game against the Los Angeles Angels. He was out, but the intent was there.

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"In the previous springs, I don't think I tried to bunt for a hit," said Pena. "You know me, I'm always going up there and just swinging, but now I'm putting more emphasis on that part of my game. I know it's going to help me."

Pena does like to take his cuts. When he walked last July 26 against the Yankees, it snapped a franchise-record streak of 65 games and 244 plate appearances without a base on balls.

Pena had just 10 walks last season. Oddly, despite Hillman's emphasis on on-base percentage, apparently no one has whispered in Pena's ear that it'd be a good idea to draw more walks.

"No, they haven't told me anything," he said. "I'm just going to go out there and play my game."

Pena, obtained last spring from the Atlanta Braves, surprised the Royals by posting a .287 average as late as July 30. But it was his defense that caught the eye of another newcomer, pitcher Brian Bannister.

"He has one of the best defensive ranges in all of baseball, I think." Bannister said. "He makes plays [between shortstop and third base] as well as anyone. I just like the fact that if something happens, he bounces right back. He doesn't let negative things affect him for the rest of the game.

"I have a lot of confidence in him. I make pitches specifically that if they hit it to him, I'm confident I'm going to get an out. You really appreciate it, and it allows you to throw more strikes."

Even so, infield coach Dave Owen is working with Pena to improve that range a bit.

"He has tremendous range, but Tony and I have been looking at some video and we found a couple of things that can help him to get better jumps," Owen said.

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Pena is also working to improve his working relationship with second baseman Mark Grudzielanek. Pena was obtained late last Spring Training -- when Grudzielanek was injured -- so this is their first camp together.

"I'm just trying to get on the same page with Grud," Pena said. "Last year, we didn't play together until the season started. So it was just kind of thrown out there.

"He's great, always just trying to teach me things. You know, he used to play short, so he's helping me a lot."

Pena spends a lot of time keeping in touch with his mother, Amaris, and the rest of his family in Florida. Brother Frankie Pena, 18, is a catcher in the Mets organization. He played in Class A last season. His sister, Jennifer, a recent graduate of the University of Hartford, is job-hunting in the communications business. She competed in the Miss Dominican Republic contest this winter.

And, of course, there's dad, former Royals manager and now Yankees coach Tony Pena.

"We talk every day -- a little bit of baseball, Frankie, Mom, Jennifer," Pena said. "He's my psychologist pretty much. He's the one who keeps me sane."

Hey, Pop, talk to me about bunting.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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