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Pena making most of big league opportunity

Cardinals backup catcher getting extended look after injuries to Molina, Kelly
MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- Even as he sat by Yadier Molina's hospital bed, invited into Molina's close-knit support bunker following the catcher's debilitating groin injury, Francisco Pena knew he wouldn't replace him.

Pena made the Cardinals' roster out of Spring Training as the backup catcher. But he was really their third, with Carson Kelly just a phone call away if Molina went down. As Pena sat through Molina's surgery, that's exactly what happened. But now that Kelly is also injured, Pena is getting an extended look. And so far, he's taking advantage. Friday's 12-4 win over the Phillies provided the latest example.

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ST. LOUIS -- Even as he sat by Yadier Molina's hospital bed, invited into Molina's close-knit support bunker following the catcher's debilitating groin injury, Francisco Pena knew he wouldn't replace him.

Pena made the Cardinals' roster out of Spring Training as the backup catcher. But he was really their third, with Carson Kelly just a phone call away if Molina went down. As Pena sat through Molina's surgery, that's exactly what happened. But now that Kelly is also injured, Pena is getting an extended look. And so far, he's taking advantage. Friday's 12-4 win over the Phillies provided the latest example.

View Full Game Coverage

"It's getting at-bats, getting more repetitions," Pena said after he was the surprise star of the club's season-best 15-hit barrage.

A night after his first career three-hit game, Pena singled and doubled before launching a solo home run in the fifth inning off Drew Hutchison, pulling a 417-foot shot deep to left-center field. He also anchored a defense that handled itself well amid wet conditions that often sparked sloppiness in Phillies defenders.

The career Minor League journeyman known more for his glove is 6-for-8 in two starts in Kelly's place.

Video: PHI@STL: Pena breaks for home on a wild pitch

"What a big day for Pena, initiating a lot of the offense there." manager Mike Matheny said. "You never know who's going to be that guy who kind of sparks you. You wouldn't think he'd be having this kind of opportunity right now, and he's making the most of it."

Even if Pena keeps hitting, his chance may be fleeting. Kelly will likely reclaim the job when his right hamstring strain heals. If the injury lingers, club officials could be tempted to explore the trade market for more proven insurance. If Pena's performance continues, it'll at least give them pause.

"We played together in the Minor Leagues and went through a lot of things together," first baseman Jose Martinez said. "To see him go out there and be successful is pretty awesome."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

St. Louis Cardinals, Francisco Pena