Peralta enters camp slimmer, feeling quicker

LAKELAND, Fla. — There were many who did not expect to see Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta back in Detroit after he batted .239 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI in 2012. The club could live with his limited defensive range as long as he was productive with the bat, but his second-half offensive swoon greatly diminished his value.

Even when Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski opted to pick up the final option year of Peralta’s three-year contract, folks figured it was just to have him secured for a trade. That avenue was explored.

But two significant things happened since Peralta finished the season in which he had his lowest batting average and fewest RBI total since coming up to stay in the majors in 2005 with the Cleveland Indians.

First, he had a monster of a postseason. Had Peralta not made several fielding gems with runners in scoring position and collected three hits in Game 1 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees, Detroit most certainly would’ve lost that contest. The whole complexion of the series could have changed. He proceeded to bat .260 with three homers and five RBI in the playoffs.

“I felt good about what I did at bat and in the field in the playoffs,” Peralta said. “It saved the year for me. It came at a good time, when everybody was there to see what you could do.”

Second, he lost 15 pounds with a combination of dieting and his first consistent offseason conditioning program in years in order to become more athletic.

“I worked out more consistently that I had in other years,” said Peralta, now 215 pounds. “I went home to the Dominican Republic and worked out with a trainer six days each week. And I watched what I ate. I cut out some fried foods I like — like fried chicken. And I stopped eating so much white rice. And when I eat rice, it’s brown rice, which is better for you.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he nudged Dombrowski at Saturday’s workout and said, “You know, Peralta’s moving better.”

Leyland added, “You could see it in the way he went to balls. Now, I don’t want to get on that ‘range’ kick, but you can see him gliding and flowing better to the ball. There’s no question about it.”

But there are questions about one matter casting a bit of a cloud over Peralta.

According to a recent Sports Illustrated report, Peralta was the 12th major league player to show up in the records of Tony Bosch, director of the Biogenesis of America LLC clinic in South Florida. The since-closed facility that focused on anti-aging products is being investigated by Major League Baseball for links to performance-enhancing drugs.

Barry Ross, Peralta’s attorney, issued a statement on his behalf: “I have never used performance enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying.” The Tigers issued a statement saying they were “not at liberty to comment” on the matter.

Since arriving at training camp, Peralta has refused comment and the club has monitored his media interviews to intervene should any related questions be asked. Peralta was not mentioned in the original Miami New Times story about Biogenesis, and the paper said some names were left out because it elected to use caution. But now names like Peralta’s and 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun’s are popping up in other media reports.

Whether Peralta’s denial statement holds up remains to be seen, but in the meantime he is going about focusing on improvement.

“I feel my first step to the ball is much better now,” Peralta, 30, said. “I am lighter on my feet. And the last time I felt this good was about five years ago. That’s the last time I was at about this weight. I have better movement, and I feel better over my entire body.

“I did a lot of agility drills with the trainer. He strapped weights to my waist during them, and it really helped.”

Peralta’s glove work is among the best. He set a team single-season record for consecutive errorless games by a shortstop with 75 from June 21 to Sept. 18 last season, and finished second among American League shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage. He also turns a double play with the best of them.

His contract is up after this year, and players tend to either get uptight or unleash everything with significant money on the line. How will it impact Peralta?

“I’m just going to try to play the same as I have,” he said. “It will not be on my mind that I am going to be a free agent. I’m just going to play like in other years, and what happens, happens.”