- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007

Back in the National League and reunited with general manager Jim Bowden and some former Cincinnati Reds teammates, newly acquired slugger Wily Mo Pena yesterday acted like someone who was just glad to be here. Which, in fact, he was.

“I feel like I”m at home,” Pena said after batting practice, during which he wowed onlookers, including his teammates, with some towering shots into RFK Stadium”s upper deck. “It”s a good team, it”s young, so from there we can take it.”

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound outfielder was having a tough season with Boston before Bowden, the former Reds GM who was trying to land Pena for years, pulled off a trade on Friday. In 156 at-bats with the Red Sox this season, Pena hit .218 with five home runs and 17 RBI. A career .256 hitter, Pena last year hit .301 with 11 homers and 42 RBI in 276 at-bats.

The difference between this year and 2006, he said, was playing time.

“Last year I was playing more,” he said.”This year, they”d put me in and they”d take me out. You”re not going to get ready like that, [spending] seven, eight days on the bench. Your timing”s not going to be there.”

A right-handed hitter, Pena is supposed to platoon in left field with Ryan Church, who, for a second straight day, said he preferred not to discuss the move. Nationals manager Manny Acta immediately started Pena last night and batted him sixth against Mets left-hander Oliver Perez.

Acta managed Pena on the Dominican team during the World Baseball Classic last year.

“I”m happy to be here with Manny Acta,” Pena said.

Pena, who hit 51 homers in 302 games for the Reds from 2002 to 2005, said he didn”t mind leaving a more hitter-friendly Fenway Park for the spacious confines of RFK.

“Everybody says it”s too big,” he said. “But you just have to hit the ball.”

Bacsik to return?

When the Nationals optioned left-hander Matt Chico to the minors on Friday, the move paved the way for lefty Mike Bacsik to re-join the rotation. Bacsik, 5-6 with a 4.61 ERA, was sent to the bullpen after poor starts against San Francisco — during which he yielded Barry Bonds” 756th home run — and Arizona.

“I stunk,” he said. “That was the worst I”ve thrown since I”ve been here.”

Bacsik, who has spent most of his 12-year pro career in the minors, said he has since worked with pitching coach Randy St. Claire to iron out the problems.

He is set to start on Wednesday, but Acta said if he continues to have to use Bacsik out of the bullpen, the club will call up a pitcher from the minors.

Johnson surgery set

First baseman Nick Johnson will have surgery to remove a titanium rod and screw from his upper leg at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., on Tuesday, a club spokesman said.

Team officials have said they are confident they expect Johnson, who broke his right femur last September, to recover fully and be ready to play by next season.