Back and blasting: Peña homers twice in return from Classic

March 17th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- If you couldn’t tell, has been playing a little bit.

The Astros’ shortstop made that abundantly clear on Friday, when he homered twice in Houston’s 11-7 loss to the Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in his first game back from the World Baseball Classic.

Fresh off a tournament where he started two games for the Dominican Republic, the reigning World Series MVP was one of six members of the team to return to Astros camp this week following the D.R.'s pool-play defeat to Puerto Rico. Peña returned locked in, cranking a two-run homer and a solo shot in consecutive at-bats against MacKenzie Gore as part of a three-hit day.

“It was a great time,” Peña said of the Classic. “I had a blast seeing countries go at it. I've never seen an environment like that, with all the drums and the flags, the waving of the flags. It was a pretty cool experience.”

Though Peña is disappointed by the highly touted Dominican club’s early tournament exit, the Astros are relieved to have him and other key contributors back in camp, particularly after Mets closer Edwin Díaz suffered a potentially season-ending right knee injury while celebrating Puerto Rico’s advance. What befell Díaz is a concern for all teams sending players to the Classic, and the Astros, who had 14 participating players, did request that prized starter not participate, in part due to injury risk.

But for Peña and many others, the opportunity to represent their country on the international stage trumped any inherent injury risk, making the choice to play an easy one. It’s a perspective Astros manager Dusty Baker respects and understands, even if with regards to Peña, the focus now shifts toward being ready for Opening Day.

“Díaz didn't get hurt competing. How do you curb exuberance?” Baker said. “Whenever you play a game, there is always a chance somebody can get hurt. The intensity [at the Classic] is high for this time of year. You are increasing your odds. … How do you put a governor on exuberance and happiness? I don’t think that’s anybody’s call. I think we have to make sure the players are more aware that somebody can get hurt. But as an athlete, rarely do you think about getting hurt. Most of us think we’re the next thing to Superman.”

Brown's latest outing

Perfect across three innings his last time out, right-hander turned in another solid effort on Friday, his fourth start of the spring. Striking out four without a walk over four innings of one-run ball, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect threw 44 of his 66 pitches for strikes. The only mark against him came on Luis García’s solo homer in the third.

“I’m just trying to string the good ones together, put the distance from the not-so-great results with a bunch of good ones in between,” Brown said. “Each game, you kind of get back into the feel. Early, things that you used in the past kind of start coming back to you as you get more and more outings. As the spring goes on, maybe the light bulb goes off.”

Coming off an outstanding 2022 season that included a productive September stint in the Majors, Brown is in line to open the year as the Astros’ fifth starter, especially with set to be sidelined beyond Opening Day due to a forearm strain.