HOUSTON -- Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña doesn’t believe in slumps. The way he sees it, you’re only as good as your next at-bat, so why look back? That mentality helped Peña endure some tough times at the plate in the middle of last season, only to break out of it in time to win the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP Awards.
So when Peña grounded out in the fifth inning of Wednesday’s 8-2 win over the Tigers at Minute Maid Park, making him hitless in his previous 19 at-bats, Peña probably didn’t know he hadn’t had a hit since Saturday. All it takes is one strong swing to flush it away, and Peña responded with a double and a homer in his final two at-bats against Detroit.
“It’s baseball,” he said. “It’s just part of the game. You keep making adjustments and showing up every single day, and that’s what I try to do.”
Peña made a huge adjustment last year that set him up to rocket to stardom in October. After hitting .218 in July and August, and getting dropped in the batting order, he ditched his front-leg kick prior to a Sept. 3 game against the Angels and Shohei Ohtani and saw it pay immediate dividends.
He said Wednesday it was a matter of simply getting better pitches to hit. He socked a Garrett Hill slider into left field for a seventh-inning double -- and later scored -- and launched a home run to left off a fastball thrown by Tyler Alexander in the eighth. That was one of three homers hit by the Astros (Chas McCormick and Kyle Tucker had the other two).
“Home runs are always fun, so happy to get the first one out of the way,” said Peña, who hit 22 last year as a rookie and added four in the playoffs. “It’s always a good feeling.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker said he could see the signs Peña was going to break out of his slump -- wait, don’t call it that -- based on how hard he had been hitting the ball.
“He looked a lot better today,” he said. “The whole team looked better today, and sometimes, you need to see a left-hander [Tigers starter Eduardo Rodriguez] to keep you going into the ball versus you’re seeing all right-handers, and you have a tendency to pull off the ball. That was a good day for us, good offensive day."
The Astros, despite prolonged slumps by Alex Bregman (0-for-18) earlier in the week and Peña, and with Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley on the injured list, are averaging 4.9 runs per game through seven games in 2023. That’s higher than the 4.5 they averaged last regular season, when they won 106 games.
“We have a great team,” Peña said. “We know we have a great lineup, and it’s just a matter of showing that every single day.”
Baker said Peña probably didn’t benefit from having only 34 at-bats during Spring Training. He played for his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic and was away from camp for a couple of weeks. Peña, though, said the WBC set him up to be ready for the start of year.
“I felt like I started the season, and I felt good,” he said. “I feel I had enough at-bats coming into the season to find my groove. The World Baseball Classic helped me with that, as well, to get in game mode.”
The home runs by McCormick -- a two-run shot in the second inning -- and Peña were the first homers by Astros right-handed hitters this season. Tucker, a lefty, hit his third homer Wednesday, and Yordan Alvarez has a pair already. José Abreu just missed one Wednesday, sending a 409-foot flyout to center field in the fourth. Bregman hit a 400-foot flyout to center in the eighth.
Peña’s homer traveled only 360 feet and barely cleared the wall in left field. It would have been a homer in only four Major League Parks, but it was enough to get Peña back on track.
“There’s a lot of hitters on this team [that] if they struggle a little bit, it’s a matter of time,” McCormick said. “We have a lot of confidence in everybody in this lineup, on this team. It was nice to see Peña bounce back his last couple of at-bats today. It’s really good for the team. He’s a great player and even if he does struggle, he’s going to bounce back.”