- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jim Bowden insists it was never his intention to turn the Washington Nationals into the Cincinnati Reds of the East. He never planned to trade for Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez. He didn’t plan to sign Dmitri Young. And he didn’t expect to complete a trade for Wily Mo Pena yesterday.

As the Nationals general manager explained upon acquiring the talented-but-struggling Pena and cash from the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named: “It was an opportunity we couldn’t turn down.”

The Red Sox, in first place in the AL East, needed to remove Pena from their roster. The Nationals, seeking some punch for their sluggish offense, wanted to give the 25-year-old outfielder a chance to play for the next six weeks.

So the two sides struck a deal yesterday afternoon, and Bowden has himself yet another one of his former players from his previous job. Pena, who played in Cincinnati from 2002 to 2005, joins Kearns, Lopez, Young and reserve infielder D’Angelo Jimenez as ex-Reds players with the Nationals.

“That’s really not the goal,” Bowden said. “Unfortunately, it’s happened, and sometimes it’s happened because the price is right. You know what you’re getting and you know what you’re giving up. But it’s certainly not by design, not at all.”

Pena, a career .256 hitter in parts of six seasons with the Reds and Red Sox, is due to arrive in the District today and could be in the lineup against the New York Mets. He won’t however, play every day, at least not yet. Manager Manny Acta plans to platoon the right-handed hitter with left-handed-hitting Ryan Church in left field for the time being.

Over time, few would be surprised if Pena becomes the everyday left fielder and Church replaces Nook Logan in center field.

“[Pena] can make that happen, if he goes out there and blows us away,” Acta said. “We’ll do what we have to do to get him in there. But as of now, he’s going to platoon with Church in left field.”

Church, who entered last night’s game hitting .265 with 10 homers, 48 RBI and a team-high 35 doubles, declined to comment when approached by reporters.

Pena hit 26 homers in only 110 games in 2004 and hit .301 in 84 games last season but struggled as a reserve with the Red Sox this season. He hit just .218 with five homers and 17 RBI in 73 games, struck out once every 2.7 at-bats and struggled in the field. With the Red Sox in a pennant race, Pena wasn’t going to get a chance to snap out of his funk.

The Nationals, by far the lowest-scoring team in the majors, felt there was nothing to lose by giving him a shot.

“The one thing about Wily Mo Pena I can tell you, if you give him 500 at-bats, he’s going to hit 40,” Bowden said. “He’s going to hit 40 home runs and strike out more than Adam Dunn. And he’s a below-average defender who needs to work on his game.”

Nationals players who already know Pena were excited to learn of yesterday’s news.

“He just has that raw power,” Lopez said. “I don’t even know if he knows how strong he is. He just goes up there and hits it a mile. … It wasn’t a surprise when he was available that Jim jumped all over him.”

Bowden wouldn’t offer any clues to how and when the Washington player involved in the trade will be revealed, though the Red Sox could covet a member of the Nationals‘ deep bullpen.

The Nationals won’t, however, be responsible for most of Pena’s $1.875 million salary. As part of the deal, Boston will pay all but a prorated portion of the major league minimum, meaning Washington is on the hook only for about $75,000.

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