Remorseful Peralta: 'I know I can play baseball naturally'

News-DemocratJanuary 18, 2014 

— Jhonny Peralta understands he has plenty to prove.

The St. Louis Cardinals' new shortstop tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs last season and served a 50-game suspension while with the Detroit Tigers.

Appearing at the Cardinals' 18th annual Winter Warm-Up on Saturday at Hyatt Regency at the Arch, Peralta expressed remorse for his mistake.

"I'm trying to put it in the past," Peralta said. "I'm trying to look forward and forget about it. ... I know I can play baseball naturally. I have to show people that I can do it and that I can help.

"I'm going to try to do the best I can do and try to help the Cardinals go to the World Series one more time and win."

The Cardinals, seeking an offensive upgrade over Pete Kozma, signed Peralta to a four-year, $53 million free-agent deal Nov. 24. Peralta batted .303 with 30 doubles, 11 home runs and 55 RBIs in 107 games with the Tigers. He hit .352 against left-handers.

Still, Peralta endured the consequences of his decision to use PEDs. He wasn't even sure whether the Tigers would want him back after the suspension, but he returned for the final three games of the regular season and then batted .333 (11-for-33) with one home run and six RBIs in 10 postseason games.

"It was hard after the suspension, but I tried to be positive," he said. "I talked to the Detroit Tigers --the team, the general manager (Dave Dombrowski) --and they gave me the opportunity to come back. I said to them that I had to show that I can play and I can help."

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak knew he would receive some criticism about the Peralta signing. Big-league pitchers Brad Zeigler and David Aardsma, in particular, questioned the Cardinals about signing a known PED-user.

Mozeliak, who wanted to add a shortstop without trading pitching, consulted with Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday before the transaction. Holliday endorsed the move despite his history of being critical about users, notably Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.

The distinction that could be made is Peralta accepted his punishment, unlike the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, who still is appealing a reduced 162-game suspension handed down last weekend.

"A-Rod is a different person," Peralta said. "I don't try to go and talk about A-Rod because everybody is different. He's taking it differently. I don't know what he's doing."

Peralta could be a candidate to bat second for the Cardinals, although he has primarily hit sixth and seventh in his career.

Third baseman Matt Carpenter will remain in the leadoff spot. Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong could project as a No. 2 hitter in the future, but he probably isn't yet ready for that role. Center fielder Peter Bourjos has speed, but isn't a proven hitter.

"I think you could go either way with him," Mozeliak said of Peralta. "I definitely think (he will hit) in the top two-thirds (of the order). I think how things shake out will depend on ... how we want to balance that out."

Peralta spoke with Mozeliak at the general manager meetings in November in Orlando, exploring the possibility of coming to St. Louis. A deal didn't take long to come together.

"I knew the Cardinals needed somebody to play shortstop and that offense was more important to them," Peralta said. "I had a couple of opportunities to go different places, but I decided to come here. It's a better organization and it will be good to play here."

The Cardinals, given their frequent visits to the postseason, are highly visible to free agents seeking a winning situation.

"I've been watching the Cardinals for a long time, and this was one of the teams I wanted to be with," said Peralta, who never has played in the National League. "It's a great organization and there's a great opportunity to be a champion. I want to be a champion, too."

Peralta said the only teammate he knows is catcher Yadier Molina. He has heard of fellow Dominican Oscar Taveras.

One thing is for certain: Peralta will be seen, not heard.

"I'm not like a crazy guy, jumping around and everything like that," he said. "I made a mistake before, (but) I'm a quiet guy."

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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