Lefty Pena shines in Sea Dogs debut

Red Sox prospect tosses seven scoreless frames in victory

Mickey Pena owned a 1.35 ERA in three August starts for Salem before his call-up. (Rick Rosenfeld)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | August 21, 2013 1:38 PM ET

Mickey Pena, left-hander from Texas.

That's all the 22-year-old wants to be known as. It's what he wants now, in the minutes after he pitched seven scoreless innings in his Double-A debut for Portland, a 4-2 Sea Dogs victory Wednesday. It's what he wanted back in April, when he began his third professional season. But after three starts with Class A Advanced Salem, he was handed a 50-game suspension without pay for his second positive test for a drug of abuse.

Instead of staying in the Carolina League, he returned to the organization's facility in Florida, forced to put what could have been a promising start to the year on hold because of his own missteps.

"It was a difficult time, for sure," Pena said. "Knowing my teammates were out there playing to get paid, it hurts. It felt like something had been taken from me. … But credit to this organization, from bottom to top it felt like everyone was in my corner, and that really gave me hope that I could move on from it."

The optimism that both the Red Sox and the pitcher himself had bore fruit in a matinee at Portland's Hadlock Field.

Pena tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out three, in the Sea Dogs' 4-2 win over New Hampshire. The left-hander, who did not factor into the decision, finished with 96 pitches, 62 for strikes.

A sixth-round pick in 2011, Pena was 6-7 with a 4.00 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 15 starts for Salem before joining Portland. He earned the promotion after posting a 1.96 ERA over his last seven starts, each of which lasted at least six innings.

Coming off such a stretch propelled the southpaw into his best start of the year Wednesday, regardless of level.

"I was at a point where I didn't feel like I had to change anything," he said. "I talked to my pitching coach in Salem [Kevin Walker] and he was telling me that, yeah, it's a different level, but I was the one who got there, and if I keep pitching to my advantages, keep attacking hitters, it'll take care of itself. The mound's still 60 feet, six inches away, you know?"

Still, Pena, who utilizes a low-90s fastball with a changeup, a slider and a curve also in his arsenal, admitted there was added adrenaline taking an Eastern League mound for the first time. After getting Kenny Wilson to fly out in the game's first at-bat, he walked Andy Burns and gave up a line-drive single to Kevin Nolan. But he managed to get Adam Loewen to bounce into a 4-6-3 double play on the very next pitch to close out the frame.

"After I gave up that single, I had to take a moment and think, 'OK, that was a pretty good pitch, I thought, and he got a pretty good bat on it,'" he said. "But to get that double play and get out, that calmed me down a little going forward and really worked to my advantage."

The Fisher Cats had more opportunities with runners in scoring position and Pena on the mound, particularly in the sixth when Nolan's second single and a pickoff error by the Sea Dogs starter put a runner on third with one. But the left-hander was able to keep New Hampshire off the board, holding the opposition to an 0-for-6 showing with RISP on the afternoon.

The 6-foot-2 hurler credited catcher Christian Vazquez with easing his transition to Double-A. The No. 17 Red Sox prospect, known for his defensive prowess behind the plate, has anchored a pitching staff that has boasted at times fellow prospects Anthony Ranaudo, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens, and it showed Wednesday.

"One, he knows what pitch to throw every time," Pena said of the backstop. "I don't think I shook him off once. I worked with him some in Spring Training, but that's been it. He just knows the hitters here and what they're expecting. He did a heck of a job."

After leaving the mound following the seventh zero on the board, it seemed like Pena had come as far as possible from the depths he had fallen back in April. But he knows it'll be a while -- maybe another year, maybe another level, maybe never -- before he can shake the mark left by the suspension. Until then, all he can do is pitch and pitch well, like he did Wednesday in Portland.

"I feel like I've matured since then," he said. "It opened my eyes and -- I'm speaking for me and my family here -- it humbles you both on and off the field. But it's in the past -- we know that. It's something that will be brought up -- I know that too. I just want to stay under-the-radar, go out and pitch as well as I can."

Vazquez, who turned 23 on Wednesday, finished 3-for-4 at the plate with an RBI. Michael Almanzar drove in the eventual game-winning tallies with a two-run triple in the eighth inning. Garin Cecchini -- Boston's No. 7 prospect -- went 0-for-3 but extended his on-base streak to 30 games with a first-frame walk.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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