'Opportunity and confidence': Peña to start?

Angels righty seeking final rotation spot after making strides

July 16th, 2020

ANAHEIM -- After undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee in August, Angels right-hander Félix Peña said he’s fully healthy and ready for whatever role the Angels have for him in the truncated 60-game 2020 season.

Peña is competing for the final spot in the rotation with right-hander Jaime Barria after manager Joe Maddon said on Wednesday that Matt Andriese will be the fifth starter. The Angels are expected to use a six-man rotation most of the year, with Shohei Ohtani pitching once a week. Peña is the front-runner for that role -- but nothing has been decided yet, as the Angels are still discussing how the back end of their rotation will shake out. There’s also a chance Peña’s role could change throughout the season based on need.

“Physically, I feel 100 percent and ready to go,” Peña said via Zoom through an interpreter. “I don’t know if I’ll be starting or out of the bullpen. Whatever role they give me, I’ll be ready for it.”

Peña is coming off a solid season with the Angels, posting a 4.58 ERA with 101 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings. He made seven starts, pitched behind an opener 15 times and for stretches was the club’s most consistent member of the rotation.

He also was part of the Angels’ most memorable game, throwing the final seven innings of a combined no-hitter along with Taylor Cole in the club’s first home game since the death of teammate Tyler Skaggs. Peña said he’ll always remember being part of that magical no-hitter, and the 30-year-old believes he’s simply getting better with more experience.

“I feel overall the biggest difference is I feel better physically and mentally,” Peña said. “Just making the in-game adjustments and maturing as a player is the biggest reason for my success last year.”

Peña also has a history with Maddon, as the two were together with the Cubs from 2016-17. Peña made 36 relief appearances for Chicago in those two seasons, posting a 4.98 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.

But Peña has made strides since then, including the chance to make the transition to starting pitcher over the last two seasons with the Angels -- and it hasn’t surprised Maddon, who saw Peña’s potential. Peña has learned to better harness his stuff and has also implemented his curveball more instead of his slider.

“I just think by the time he got here he got more consistent opportunity and relaxed,” Maddon said. “He’s always had great stuff. But I haven’t seen him look this good. Physically, he’s chiseled. He’s in better shape. I think it’s opportunity and confidence.”

Peña said he’s excited about the opportunity to play for Maddon again and enjoys the positivity he brings to the club. Maddon’s creativity will also be needed this year to help shape the rotation, especially with Ohtani pitching once a week, which could lead to Peña pitching in multiple roles for the club. His duty could also change once right-hander Julio Teheran rejoins the rotation, as Teheran was a lock but still hasn’t arrived at camp.

“It feels really good to be back with Joe,” Peña said. “He gives nothing but positive vibes. Gives everyone confidence. It just feels really good to play for him.”