01/21/10 5:42 PM EST
Penny a good fit for the Cardinals
Righty excited to play for the team he cheered for as a kid
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Manager Tony La Russa, for one, had coveted Penny long before he finally signed a one-year contract to join the Redbirds rotation.
"Whenever you don't like a guy pitching against you, when his day comes him and you think, 'Oh, boy, this is not going to be fun for us,' you think, 'It would sure be nice to have him on our team.'" La Russa said. He's been a guy that I did not think it would be a comfortable day for us. So now he's on our side."
Penny likewise had always been aware of the appeal of pitching close to home. Up until this season, the entirety of his career has been spent pitching on one of the two coasts. Now he's back in the middle, and looking forward to it.
"I've always wanted to play here," Penny said. "It was my favorite team growing up. My dad was always a Dodgers fan and I was a Cardinal fan. So I'm excited."
Perhaps more striking is that Penny also views himself as a fit as far as pitching philosophy. Known best as a power pitcher, Penny said it won't be any problem for him to embrace pitching coach Dave Duncan's emphasis on quick outs.
"I've never really been [a strikeout pitcher]," Penny said. "I was in the Minor Leagues, but as far as being in the big leagues, I've never been a real strikeout guy. I don't even know my total for a season. I've tried to pitch to contact. That's how you get deep into games."
That's surely music to Duncan's ears. Pitch efficiency has rarely been a strong suit for Penny, but if he commits to quick outs, it's likely that Duncan can help him shore up that aspect of his game. Penny has averaged 16.1 pitches per inning over his career. By comparison, Adam Wainwright has averaged 15.5 for his career, and Chris Carpenter has been under 15 in each of his full seasons in St. Louis.
Penny has the stuff. It's a matter of harnessing it more consistently than he has, and perhaps Duncan is the perfect man to help him do it.
"I'm sure there's going to be some changes," Penny said. "I've heard great things about him, and I'm definitely going to listen to him and see if I can bring it onto the field."
His new teammates are looking forward to finding out.
"I met him at the All-Star Game," Carpenter said. "I know he's a real big guy, throws the ball real hard. And I know that he's a competitor. I've competed against him on the other side a bunch of times. And I also know that when he takes the baseball on any given day, you've got a chance to win. So I'm excited about throwing him out there every fifth day and watching him do his work."
And in fact, Penny is looking forward to tapping some of Carpenter's knowledge.
"Carpenter reminds me a lot of [Roy] Halladay in the way he pitches," Penny said. "Every pitch has a purpose. I haven't seen Wainwright as much as I have Carp, but I'm excited. I'm definitely going to learn from them."
One other thing worth noting: it's not like Penny has been a slug until now. He has a 4.14 career ERA, and as recently as 2007 he posted a 3.03 mark and finished third in the Cy Young voting. If he can get better than that, the Cardinals really have something on their hands.
"[I'm] trying to get a little smarter," he said. "I'm not just trying to overpower everyone anymore. I think when I was younger I was just trying to throw the ball by everyone. I think you learn everywhere you go, and you've got to take every experience you have and try to make something good out of it."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.