VIERA, Fla. -- This past offseason, Wily Mo Pena's friends in the Dominican Republic read the reports that he was the Nationals' starting left fielder entering Spring Training. But Pena would constantly tell them that the reports were false and that he had to win a job.
Pena, 26, feels he has a lot to prove before he is given an everyday job. He wants to show that he is more that just a home run hitter. During his first day of camp, Pena, who needs to judge fly balls a little better, spent more than an hour working on his defense.
"He an average outfielder," said first base/outfield coach Jerry Morales. "Last year, there were a few balls that went over his head."
The next day, the right-handed-hitting Pena put on a power display, but he was still working on hitting the ball the other way. It's something hitting coach Lenny Harris has preached to Pena on a daily basis.
"I have to make the team," Pena said. "People say, 'You are going to have the opportunity to play in left,' and I told them it's not going to happen yet. I have to show those guys that I can be an everyday player."
There is a reason a lot of people believe Pena will be the Nationals' left fielder during the 2008 season. Acquired from the Red Sox on Aug. 17 for a player to be named later, Pena made an immediate impact on his new club. Washington averaged five runs per game when he was in the lineup, but before his arrival, it averaged 3.88 runs per game. Pena ended up hitting .293 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs. .
"I think the more at-bats he gets, the better feel he gets at the plate," said right fielder Austin Kearns, who also played with Pena when both were with the Reds. "It's always tough when you are not getting consistent at-bats. He's a good athlete. When he is healthy, he one of the faster guys on the team. I think being out there and playing helps a lot of things."
Pena also showed that he was more than just a home run hitter. He was one of fastest players on the team. Pena said he was successful during his brief time with the Nationals because he was given a chance to play every day.
"When I was in Boston, I didn't get the opportunity like Washington gave to me," Pena said. "When you play every day, you can do some damage. When you are not playing, how can you do damage? You sit in the dugout."
This season, Pena is expected to have more of an impact. The team would like him to have his first 100-RBI season. The best year he had was in 2004, when he hit .259 with 26 home runs and 66 RBIs for the Reds.
"He's a big guy with a lot of power," third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. "He works hard. He is really working on trying to be a complete hitter. Anytime you have a guy who has the possibility to hit 30-40 home runs, it means a lot to anybody's lineup."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.