The Detroit Tigers are keeping the Jhonny Peralta fire lit, and for good reason. Peralta risked exiling himself from the organization the moment he cheated back in the spring of 2012. When he was finally caught and suspended for 50 games just after the trade deadline this year, the Tigers had seemingly already moved on.
Jose Iglesias was brought in to play shortstop just before the July 31st deadline and has been magnificent in doing so. Some fans shiver at the thought of a Peralta return, asking questions like:
Why would they give a compromised player another shot?
Where would he even play?
How rusty will the guy be?
Well, let’s take them in order.
He won’t be doing this in left field
Nobody wants to win with a cheater, but that’s exactly what the Tigers did….last year. Jhonny took PED’s in the spring before last season, then put up his worst season as a professional, got off of the goods, and rebounded with an All-Star effort in 2013.
Had the Tigers won the World Series a season ago, some instigators could have pointed to the fact that they cheated their way to the championship, or at least 1/25th of the roster did.
Fortunately, Jhonny cleaned up his act and returned to form as a sure-handed, slugging shortstop. Peralta has never caused waves in the clubhouse and has apologized both publicly to the masses and privately to his teammates. In other words, for a cheater, Jhonny has handled himself as well as anyone could possibly hope.
The Tigers have a high class clubhouse and will welcome him back with open arms if management does indeed bring him back. But where the heck will he play?
Taking a page from the ’68 Tigers?
Back in 1968, then manager Mayo Smith was left with a dilemma. When Al Kaline came off the disabled list Smith didn’t want to disrupt the productive trio of outfielders that included Jim Northrup, Mickey Stanley, and Willie Horton. Smith decided that Kaline would give 3rd base a try. But then Horton got hurt himself and Kaline went back to right field and had a big September.
Once Horton was ready to come back, Smith was facing the same issue. So with nine games left in the regular season, Smith replaced the weak hitting Ray Oyler (hitting .135 at the time) by moving Stanley in from centerfield to play short. Stanley did commit two errors in the ’68 series (neither led to a run) against the Cardinals but having his bat in the lineup allowed for increased run production at short, especially when he scored twice in a huge Game 5 win. The Tigers eventually won the ’68 title in seven games.
This week in Chicago, guess who was taking fly balls in the outfield? Ol’ Jhonny Peralta. Mayo Smith brought Stanley in from the outfield to play short and Jim Leyland might move Peralta from short to the outfield. Why is this even being entertained one might ask?
Two words: Matt Tuiasosopo. And two more words: huge slump. On July 11th, Tui cracked his 3rd homer in as many starts and was hitting a robust .342 with a .458 on-base %. Since then, in exactly 69 at-bats, Tui has 13 hits (.188 avg.), one homer, and zero doubles. He ended up hitting .222 in July and .216 in August and is now losing at-bats against lefties to rookie Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos won’t crack the postseason roster though and Leyland isn’t comfortable with Andy Dirks getting all of the starts, especially against potential playoff lefties like Jon Lester, David Price, Matt Moore, Derek Holland, and others.
Considering all of their options, the Tigers are going to give Peralta a look in left. He has expressed confidence in handling that assignment and is on the cusp of being allowed to head to Florida to play in some extended minor league games. From there he can head straight down to Miami for the Tigers’ final 3-game set against the Marlins and get some live MLB reps in left.
Had Tuiasosopo not fallen off the grid the Tigers may very well have parted with Peralta, but he has stumbled mightily, and heeeere’s Jhonny!
As mentioned above, Peralta will have about two weeks of live games, three at the major league level, to see if this experiment is even remotely doable. His bat should be fine. He’s a professional hitter and would make for a solid 2-way platoon with Dirks in left from an offensive standpoint.
If Peralta can hold up for the first seven innings of select playoff games and then be replaced by Don Kelly late, this thing might just have legs.
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