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Chasers catcher back in lineup, back in swing of things
BASEBALL

Chasers catcher back in lineup, back in swing of things

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Five players in the modern history of the Pacific Coast League have hit four home runs in a game.

Omaha catcher Francisco Pena made a valiant run at becoming the sixth recently at Werner Park.

The 2014 PCL All-Star, who set a franchise record for his position by clubbing a career-high 27 homers last season, went deep three times in a home win over Iowa. He had an opportunity to do it a fourth.

Pena stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning of a tie game. But Cubs reliever Blake Cooper didn’t give him anything to swing at. Pena walked on five pitches, missing his chance at history.

The next batter, Casey Kotchman, hit a walk-off homer to give the Storm Chasers a 6-4 victory.

The win was the most important thing, Pena said, although taking a cut in the ninth would’ve been nice.

“To be honest, I was trying to get on base because we had a tight ballgame,” Pena said. “I would’ve loved to have seen something. We were trying to win a ballgame, so I was just trying to get something going. It did happen. I got on base with a walk, and Kotchman came through and hit a homer.”

The catcher’s three-homer day was the first by a Storm Chaser at Werner Park. The last Omaha player to hit three long balls in a game was Mike Moustakas, who sent three out of Rosenblatt Stadium in 2010.

“It was awesome. It was an awesome night, very special,” Pena said. “I heard Mike Moustakas was the last that did it, so it’s pretty cool to put my name there with his.”

The 25-year-old son of former major league All-Star Tony Pena is in his ninth professional season. Pena hit five homers in his first four starts after former Kansas City catcher Erik Kratz left the Omaha lineup.

Kratz, who was backing up Royals all-star Salvador Perez, joined the Chasers on a rehab assignment after landing on the disabled list. Kansas City traded for catcher Drew Butera soon after he was injured.

While in Omaha, Kratz played in 15 games. Pena, therefore, wasn’t in the lineup as much as usual.

Chasers manager Brian Poldberg said his everyday backstop handled the situation well, even after it became fairly clear that Kratz would never return to the Royals. Boston claimed him off waivers Sunday.

Meanwhile, Pena moved back into his usual role and had eight hits in his first 16 at-bats after Kratz left.

“When he went through it, I think he caught maybe six games in 20 days,” Poldberg said. “He got a couple of (designated hitter days) in there, but it’s hard to stay mentally ready at that point. Once Kratz got off his rehab assignment, then it’s Frankie’s job again. Then he came back like gangbusters. It’s good to have the bat in the lineup. Getting Frankie back has given us a big lift, which we needed right now.”

The Storm Chasers had won seven consecutive games entering Thursday’s doubleheader at Iowa. They’ll return to Omaha Friday, when injured Kansas City ace Yordano Ventura will start against Round Rock.

Ventura (3-6, 4.68 ERA) hasn’t pitched since June 12 due to nerve irritation in his right elbow. Former Chaser Joe Blanton has started in his place recently, but the Royals hope their ace will return in July.

When Ventura takes the mound at Werner, Pena will likely be his catcher. Poldberg said now that he’s back in the lineup regularly, he should quickly get back into his rhythm and routine behind the plate.

The Omaha manager has no concern that Pena will continue to perform offensively.

“It’s a short period of time, and guys get hot. But it’s something he needs to continue to do, whether it’s a home run or just driving some balls,” Poldberg said. “He’s had some good at-bats, and I’m not worried about the home runs. He just needs to continue to hit the ball solid. ... As long as he keeps his approach the way it is and keeps his confidence level up, he’s going to get his hits — and get his home runs, too.”

Cuthbert in Futures Game

Omaha infielder Cheslor Cuthbert was one of two players in the Royals organization selected to play in the upcoming 2015 All-Star Futures Game at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on July 12.

Cuthbert and Northwest Arkansas shortstop Raul Mondesi, considered the top prospect in the Kansas City system, will play for the World Team as it faces the U.S. Team at 2 p.m. to kick off All-Star week.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1027, tony.boone@owh.com, twitter.com/BooneOWH

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Omaha lost both games of a doubleheader against division rival Iowa on Thursday by scores of 3-2 and 1-0. The opening contest ended on a Kyle Schwarber double in the bottom of the 10th that brought home Arismendy Alcantara from first base for the Cubs (37-34).

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