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Maddon hopes Pena will break out soon

Maddon hopes Pena will break out soon

TORONTO -- Rays first baseman Carlos Pena stepped to the plate four times against the Blue Jays on Tuesday night. Following each of those plate appearances, the Tampa Bay cleanup hitter walked straight back to the dugout with his head hanging, after swinging and missing on third strikes during all four of his at-bats.

Accomplishing such a feat -- known in baseball as the Golden Sombrero -- marked the second time this season Pena has struck out four times in a game. Striking out is something that Pena has become familiar with this year, as the slugger has struggled to begin the season.

Coming into Wednesday's game, the 29-year-old Pena is hitting just .207 (23-for-111), with seven home runs and 17 RBIs, while striking out 39 times. Last year, the first baseman enjoyed a monster offensive campaign, hitting .282 and setting single-season Rays records for home runs (46) and RBIs (121).

However, Rays manager Joe Maddon is not too concerned about his cleanup hitter's poor performance at the plate to begin 2008, or against Blue Jays pitching on Tuesday.

"I just thought he expanded the strike zone [on Tuesday]," Maddon said. "He just got out of his game plan a little bit. He had decent numbers against [Jays starter A.J.] Burnett coming into last night's game too. So it wasn't like [Burnett] was a pitcher who was giving him a lot of problems.

"He missed a couple of pitches more than anything," Maddon added, "I thought he got out of his zone and opened up [his swing] a little too much, which he had not been doing so far and he doesn't normally do."

Going hitless on Tuesday ended Pena's quiet seven-game hit streak, during which he hit .267 (8-for-30). Maddon was quick to acknowledge that he has seen other signs that prove the first baseman may be ready to break out of his slump.

"I thought he was doing a nice job," Maddon said. "In Boston he hit a home run, and he just missed another home run [at Fenway Park]. A couple good top spin line drives to right which tells me he's swinging the bat right."

David Singh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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