Brayan Pena always is upbeat, but no more than Friday when he took another step in his return from surgery to remove cartilage from his left knee.
“Today was a very encouraging day because I was able to hit (off a tee) in the cage,” said the St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher, a switch-hitter who took 60 swings from both sides of the plate. “It was no problem.”
And there was more.
“I threw 120 feet and I ran for a good 20 minutes (on a treadmill),” Pena said. “It was very solid. It was a great day for me. ... For me to finish on the treadmill and feel no pain, no soreness, nothing, it was very good.”
The Cardinals will continue to push Pena, 34, who signed a two-year, $5-million contract to serve as Yadier Molina’s backup but has yet to play a game.
“(Saturday) is going to be even tougher because it’s going to be back-to-back days (of activity),” Pena said. “But I feel very good. I feel much better. I still have to grind it out a little bit because of soreness in that spot over the process. But ... I’m very pleased and very happy with the way everything is going.”
Pena was expected to be sidelined two to four weeks. It’s going to wind up being longer than four weeks, but Pena doesn’t have the feeling that it’s been a drawn-out process.
“They say that I’m a little bit ahead of schedule,” he said. “So that’s pretty good. I wasn’t expecting to hit this soon, so for me to go out there and hit the way I did, I feel like a 20-year-old again. It feels good, man.
“It’s a little frustrating when you’re on the DL and stuff like that, not being able to help your team. But at the same time, you’re here. I need to be very positive and I need to keep going and have very positive thoughts.”
The Cardinals also are encouraged.
“He’s doing well,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “It looks like he’s moving better, just watching him walk. We’ve been watching him in the trainer’s room on the assisted-running treadmill and you can tell he’s feeling more confident all the time.”
Pena doesn’t know when the knee will allow him to play.
“I have to be able to squat with no problem. I have to be able to jump, to move around, to throw to first base and stuff like that,” he said. “Hopefully, I can be back there soon.”
Pena commended Eric Fryer for the job he’s done backing up Molina for the first month of the season. Fryer hasn’t had many opportunities but he’s cashed in on his chances. He collected six hits in his first six at-bats and began Friday batting .583 (7-for-12).
Fryer will likely return to Class AAA Memphis when Pena is ready to be activated.
“I feel like the fans don’t know who I am,” Pena said. “I feel like even my teammates don’t know who I am. But Molina is doing great and Fryer is doing awesome also. I want to be with my teammates on the baseball field and grind it out with them. For me to not be able to do that is very frustrating sometimes.”
First baseman Matt Adams’ bruised left knee was stiff and sore when he woke up Friday morning, something the slugger anticipated.
“I kind of had an idea it would be sore waking up,” Adams said. “But I came in and did my treatment and it feels pretty good right now.”
Adams deemed himself well enough to pinch-hit, but he had not yet received clearance from the medical staff four hours before the game against Pittsburgh.
“It’s feeling good,” Adams said. “I feel like I could (pinch-hit). I’m doing what I’m told and reporting back to them.”
Matheny was optimistic Adams’ condition would not preclude him from playing.
“Most likely,” the manager said. “We’re talking a bruise, so as long as the medical staff feels he’s not going to do something that would lead to a longer-term injury, then he should be good to go for us at some point.”
Kang back in action
Jung Ho Kang on Friday returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup for the first time since he suffered a devastating injury to his left knee in a Sept. 17 game against the Chicago Cubs.
Kang, playing shortstop, was attempting to make a relay throw to first when he was taken down on a slide into second base by the Chicago Cubs’ Chris Coghlan.
Kang played third base Friday and batted sixth. The 29-year-old native of Korea batted .287 with 24 doubles, 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games last year, his rookie season.
Kang is friends with first-year Cardinals reliever Seung Hwan Oh, also from Korea.
To make room for Kang on their roster, the Pirates optioned infielder Jason Rogers to Class AAA Indianapolis. Kang batted just .150 (6-for-40) with one home run and five RBIs in 13 rehab games with Indianapolis.