Pena proving versatile for Yankees

Pena proving versatile for Yankees

NEW YORK -- Ramiro Pena couldn't remember the last time he played second base. Spring Training, he thought, but never in a game that counted. He hadn't played a single inning there during his entire professional career, spanning five seasons between the Yankees and two Minor League affiliates. It didn't seem like the opportunity would arise, considering starter Robinson Cano had not missed a game all year.

Yet, when Pena showed up to the ballpark for Sunday's game against the Twins and saw a little No. 4 next to his name posted on the clubhouse door, he wasn't surprised. Such is life for a utility infielder.

"I come here every day ready for something," Pena said. "I'm the utility guy with [Angel] Berroa, and I'm ready for anytime they call me to play. I'm ready. I'm always ready to play any position."

Pena began the spring a long shot to make the team, but he was given an opportunity when Alex Rodriguez went down with a hip injury. Pena has been making the most of it since. He has played stellar defense at three infield positions, while hitting .264 (14-for-53), with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs.

In his first season in the big leagues, he has already played 17 games at third, eight at shortstop and now his first at second. Where he'll be playing on Monday, when the Yankees go for their first four-game sweep at the new Yankee Stadium, is still anybody's guess.

"He's a very gifted defender," manager Joe Girardi said. "... We're comfortable he's going to make the right plays, and that's what he did. He made a nice play today. He's come a long ways for a young man."

Pena was given his first test at his new position right away Sunday, long before the Yankees came away with a 3-2 victory in 10 innings. With runners on the corners and two outs in the first inning, Jason Kubel ripped a grounder past the mound that seemed destined for center field -- a hit that would have given Minnesota the early lead.

But Pena seemingly came from nowhere, ranging far to his right to make a backhand stab and quick toss to Derek Jeter covering second to record the force ahead of a sliding Justin Morneau. If there were any early jitters, they were all gone after making a stellar play that saved a run and elicited a nice ovation from the Stadium crowd.

"He hit a little inside-out, and the first one was a tough play because of the bounce," Pena said. "But I got to catch it, and I did and I'm thinking, 'Flip it! Flip it!'"

Though Pena will likely see his playing time decrease with Rodriguez's return to third base, it appears he has found a niche for himself with the club. Girardi said Pena has contributed all over the field thus far, and his presence allows the manager flexibility to give the regular infielders the occasional day off, like he did with Cano on Sunday.

As Rodriguez continues to recover, he will play certain games at designated hitter, and Pena will likely be the one to fill in at third.

"You just want him to be comfortable," Jeter said. "I know what it feels like to be a young player coming in. There's a lot of guys that did that for me, so you just try to do that for him as well."

Lately, no matter where Pena has been playing, everything seems to be working out for the Yankees. They have won five straight games, including three straight victories by virtue of walk-off hits during this series against Minnesota.

With Andy Pettitte on the mound in the series finale Monday, the Yankees hope they can just keep on rolling.

"It doesn't seem like we've had an easy game yet this year, but we'll take any victory we can," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "This is especially nice since we're able to win a series against the Twins. Hopefully we can close it out tomorrow."

Pitching matchup
NYY: LHP Andy Pettitte (3-1, 4.00 ERA)
Pettitte worked six solid innings against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on Wednesday, recording his first win since April 21 against Oakland. He allowed two runs, but only one was earned, as Toronto's Aaron Hill scored on what would have been the third out of the first inning, if not for a throwing error by Cano. Pettitte allowed five hits and four walks while striking out two. He allowed two extra-base hits, both doubles. He has now pitched at least six innings in six of his seven starts this season.

MIN: LHP Glen Perkins (1-2, 4.27 ERA)
After starting the season with three straight eight-inning outings, Perkins has been unable to get past the sixth inning in each of his past four starts. The left-hander pitched just 5 1/3 innings against the Tigers and gave up five runs on five hits in his last start. It was also the fourth straight outing that Perkins has allowed at least four earned runs. Perkins was not exactly sharp with his command in this last outing, issuing a career-high four walks to the Tigers. The left-hander is 1-2 with a 5.00 ERA in three career starts vs. New York

Tidbits
Righty reliever Brian Bruney pitched one inning for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, starting the second game of the doubleheader against Columbus. Bruney has been on the disabled list since April 25 with a flexor strain in his right elbow. He allowed one run on two hits, including an RBI double to Andy Marte, walking none and striking out one. Girardi said before New York's game at Yankee Stadium that Bruney could potentially be activated by Tuesday. ... The Yankees have matched their season high-water mark at three games over .500. ... A.J. Burnett has now gone winless in six straight starts for the first time since 2005, when he pitched for Florida. ... Rodriguez's home run Sunday was his 211th as a Yankee, tying him with Jeter for 10th place on the franchise's all-time list. ... Until Sunday, the Yankees had not won back-to-back extra-inning games since July 16-17, 2001, against Philadelphia.

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Up next
• Tuesday: Yankees (CC Sabathia, 3-3, 3.70) vs. Orioles (Brad Bergesen, 1-1, 5.27), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Yankees (Phil Hughes, 1-2, 7.56) vs. Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 3-3, 5.21), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Yankees (Joba Chamberlain, 2-1, 3.76) vs. Orioles (Adam Eaton, 2-4, 7.93), 7:05 p.m. ET

Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.