St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena is taking a wait and see approach in the initial stage of his rehab assignment.
Pena began his rehab on Tuesday night with the Springfield Cardinals against the Arkansas Travelers (Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels). According to the 34-year old, he will ease his knees into game action by playing four to five innings, alternating back-and-forth between being a DH and playing behind the plate and progress from then on.
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It took the Cuban defector two months to fully recover from left knee surgery he underwent in early April. The 5-foot-9 switch hitter inked a two-year deal over the offseason with the expectation he would be Yadier Molina’s immediate back-up. However, Pena injured his knee when he slipped in the dugout during the big-league Cardinals’ second to last week of spring training.
Pena has career slash line of .260/.300/.352 with 23 home runs and 164 RBI in a cumulative 629 games played with four different major league organizations, prior to joining the Cardinals.
Below is a transcript from Pena’s media session conducted before Tuesday night’s game. In the presser, Pena details the rehab process, the plan going forward, and much more.
Media member: First of all Brayan, how are you feeling and how does it feel to be back playing again?
Brayan Pena: "Man, I'm feeling great. I'm feeling a lot better. I can go back out there do my job and try to help the team win. For me personally, I feel a lot better. I feel a lot stronger. It's one of those things I can't wait to go back there behind home plate because there's nothing like the real deal. Hopefully, I can go out there and be strong. Hopefully, my knee can respond.”
What has the rehab process been like?
Pena: “It’s been long, but at the same time we didn’t try to push it. We didn’t try to do nothing like to have any setbacks or nothing like that. Hopefully today, I can go out there and give four or five innings and two good at-bats or something like that and then we go from there. So far it’s been great and hopefully we can continue like that.”
Has it taken longer than you expected to get back?
Pena: “Not really. I think it was one of those things we really wanted to take care of (my knee) because at the end of the day - I’m a catcher. My knee is very important for me and my position. At the same time, we were very aggressive with my rehab. They really did a good job out there in (extended) spring training and stuff. I’m very happy to be back on the baseball field. Hopefully I can get back out there and help the team to win.”
As a catcher, when you hear knee surgery, does that instill some panic in you?
Pena: “Nobody wants to go through that process, especially after a little bit at the big-league level, being healthy, and helping my team to win in every aspect of the game. When you have the news you have to go and have surgery, it really upsets you. It’s a little disappointing. I’m one of those guys, man, I don’t look back. I look forward and I do whatever it takes to be back as soon as possible. Hopefully today, every goes well.”
What have you done in your first year in the organization to learn the big-league pitching staff and how much do you talk to Yadi and get familiar with the guys you are catching?
Pena: “We had a great spring training. We really spend a lot of time together and go over a lot of scouting reports together. We watch a lot of film and we talk a lot because I believe in communication, especially between pitchers and catchers. But at the same time, it was very sad I couldn’t be down there for Opening Day for my guys. I’ve been watching a lot of the games, talking to the guys, and been in the meeting rooms and stuff like that with them.
“I learn how they like to go about their business, especially when you have a guy like Mike Matheny and Yadier Molina. Those guys really know a lot of about the game, especially about our pitching staff. Like I said before, I’m focused about getting back there as soon as possible and trying to help the team win here.”
Obviously it’s early in the rehab process, but could you just touch on how you plan to progress through your rehab?
Pena: “I think today I’m going to go four innings and two at-bats something like that. Then tomorrow, I think I’m going to be DH’ing and then the day after that I’m going to be behind home plate again and then we go from there because I think we have a couple of early games back-to-back here. That’s something upstairs has to take care of and tell me exactly what they want me to do. At the same time that is our plan right now.
“I think I’m going to be DHing a couple of days here and be behind home plate for two games or something like that.”
From being around Carson Kelly in spring training and now here, what is your impression on the youngster?
Pena: “He’s a big-league. He’s a big-league. I really enjoy watching him work and watching him doing what he’s doing. I heard he’s doing pretty good down here also. A guy like that is going to be hard to stop. He’s really improved his game, especially coming from playing third base to behind home plate. It’s not an easy position. It’s a position that requires a lot of discipline and he’s doing that. I’m very happy for him. I’m so excited to see he’s doing what he’s doing and he’s doing great.”
Is there something that you're looking for like a feeling in your swing or behind the plate, in that you know you're ready and ready to get back?
Pena: “I wish you could ask me that question tomorrow because today everything is so fast. I want to make sure that I’m on time. At the same time, I want to be behind home plate and be solid too. You have to understand that it is a process. That’s why it’s little by little, but at the same time I’m trying to be aggressive with my mentality, but I’ve got to be smart.
“What I mean by aggressive, I want to be able to have good at-bats and throw good to second. I want to be able to block balls. I want to be able to do exactly what I know I can do, but at the same time it’s not up to me. It’s up to them to see how my knee responds and hopefully it responds well. Mentality, I feel good and very strong. Then we go from there, man.”
So pain-free, is that the number one thing?
Pena: “Yeah, that would be my goal today. Honestly, man I think pain-free and tomorrow wake up without no swelling or stiffness or nothing like that. That would be awesome. At the same time, our guys here are in that (playoff) race. I want to be able to contribute and I don’t just want to go through the motions. I want to help the team to win and do whatever it takes to be there for them.”
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