Pena 'honored' to back up Yadi, learn from him

New Cardinals catcher would get Opening Day nod if Molina's not ready

February 17th, 2016

JUPITER, Fla. -- With an energy and excitement as fresh as this time on the baseball calendar, new backup catcher Brayan Pena checked in at the Cardinals' spring complex for the first time Wednesday.

He spent much of the morning introducing himself to new teammates and coaches. With such formalities done, Pena is eager to spend the duration of his Florida stay getting to know his pitchers.

With many at camp, Cards set sights high

Now with his fifth Major League organization, Pena, who signed on to be the backup to Yadier Molina for the next two seasons, understands the importance of learning the tendencies of all the pitchers he may catch.

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"This is the most important part for me in the entire camp," Pena said. "It's not the same when you face them. I talked to Molina. He told me, 'I'm here for you. Anything that you need, just let me know.' Who better than he to help me understand these guys?"

Molina has plenty of time to teach, too, given that he won't participate in baseball activities for at least two more weeks while he recovers from left thumb surgery. Pena would also shift to the top of the catching depth chart should Molina not be ready to take the field on Opening Day.

Yadi has cast removed, hopes to play Opening Day

For now, Molina's slowed track will increase the opportunities for Pena (and other catchers invited to camp) to diversify his time with as many pitchers as possible. The Cardinals have invited 33 to their Major League Spring Training.

"It's like a marriage," said Pena, whose previous career stops include Atlanta, Kansas City, Detroit and Cincinnati. "Every marriage is different, and I'm the one who has to adjust to every single one of them. Thank God I have the opportunity to have Yadier Molina on my side. I'm going to be like a sponge. You don't always have a chance to play right next to a legend like that.

"I'm honored to be his backup."

Manager Mike Matheny said he will work with Pena, 34, to individualize his spring schedule based upon what the 11-year veteran believes he needs to get ready for the season. Matheny, who caught for four Major League teams, understands the unique challenges for a catcher new to a staff.

Spring was so important for building that rapport, Matheny said, that he declined Joe Torre's invite to play in the 2006 World Baseball Classic so he could instead spend those days working with San Francisco's pitchers.

"I needed that time with my staff," Matheny said. "We had so many young pitchers, and so many guys I didn't know well, and I needed to build that rapport. Yeah, that was a missed opportunity, but it was that important to me as a player. I wanted to make sure they knew I was there for them and get off on the right foot."