Fidel Pena didn't have time to celebrate his 22nd birthday on Friday night because his Silver Hawks had to get on a bus to Burlington, Iowa. Instead, he gave himself quite the gift on the field.
The D-backs prospect hit for the cycle and scored three runs in Class A South Bend's 7-5 loss to Peoria at Dozer Park.
"[Hitting for the cycle] feels amazing. It's the best, the best, the best birthday gift ever," Pena said.
Pena led off the game with a triple and scored on a wild pitch. He doubled in the third inning and hit his seventh homer of the season with two outs in the fifth. Aware that he needed a single for the cycle when he came to the plate in the eighth inning, the native of the Dominican Republic knew better than to head toward second base if he got a hit.
"My teammate [Blake Perry] told me, 'If you get a hit, don't pass first base. If you [mess] it up, I'm going to kill you,'" Pena said.
The cycle was the latest notable outburst by Pena, who drove in a career-high eight runs and fell a double shy of the cycle in a 16-10 loss at Fort Wayne on July 5. On Friday, he became the first Minor Leaguer this season to hit for the cycle in a losing effort.
Friday's four-hit night raised Pena's batting average to .260, and the switch-hitter said he hopes to perform more consistently by improving his plate discipline.
"When I'm anxious I tend to chase a lot of bad pitches," he said. "When I'm feeling all nice and easy, I stay on those pitches."
Pena has been a better hitter in the second half of the season. He had a .623 OPS before the Midwest League All-Star Game but entered Friday night with a .781 mark after the break. He has six hits, including four for extra bases, in his last two games.
"It's just pitch selection and maintaining balance and rhythm," Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley said earlier this month. "[Pena] needs to make sure he hits it where it's pitched, zones up pitches, controls at-bats, has a plan at the plate and executes it."
Pena also has an interesting home/road split. He's hitting .317 on the road but .201 at South Bend's Coveleski Stadium.
"I feel as though it's not really hitter-friendly [at home] and I've had bad luck. Maybe I'm trying a little too much," he said. "We have a lot of fans that are there all the time and are good friends with me and trying to support me and maybe I'm trying a little too hard."
Pena also is getting used to playing every day at second base after alternating between catcher, second base and designated hitter last season. He's also played first, third, shortstop and right field since signing with the D-backs in February 2009 but said he's comfortable with the transition.
"That's all I did all my childhood, all I played was shortstop and second base," he said.
"He's always been a pretty damn good infielder, he has good hands and good feet, an idea for the game," Haley said. "He could probably do anything he puts his mind to. He was a decent catcher, too, just the wear and tear is hard on anybody."
First baseman Rudy Flores hit his team-leading 12th homer and drove in a pair of runs for South Bend. But Charlie Tilson went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and Nick Martini doubled twice and also drove in two runs for Peoria.
Brandon Simes is a contributor to MiLB.com.