Rays reliever Joel Peralta won’t play in WBC

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — A dream of playing in the World Baseball Classic is over for Tampa Bay Rays reliever Joel Peralta.

On Sunday morning, Peralta said he won’t compete in the upcoming event, held March 2-19, because he wants to preserve his health for the regular season. The 36-year-old had been selected to participate for the Dominican Republic in the tournament, held once every four years, but he was uncertain in recent days about his availability to represent his native country.

The Rays want to secure his long-term durability a year after he had a 3.63 ERA in 67 innings pitched, the fourth-most over his eight-year career (he pitched 87.2 with the Kansas City Royals in 2007, 73.2 with the Royals in 2006 and 67.2 with the Rays in 2011). He also sat out the first four days of spring training workouts last week because of a stiff neck.

“The main thing is this is probably the only chance that I am going to have to play in the WBC, and I’m not going to be able to,” Peralta said. “I was hoping I could. Years earlier, I was anxious for them to invite me to go, and it never happened. And now it happens, I can’t go. It hurts a little bit.”

Peralta knows there could be a positive spin to the news, though. Staying out of the WBC could keep him refreshed, which may pay dividends during a possible late-season push. Peralta was part of a bullpen last year that paced the AL with a 2.88 ERA and held opposing batters to a .208 batting average. The Rays’ ERA was the lowest for an AL bullpen since the 2005 Cleveland Indians’ 2.80.

“They were really concerned about it,” Peralta said of Rays management. “They really asked me not to go, so they played a big part of this too. I have to listen a lot to them, because I’m a Rays pitcher. I work for them.”

For Peralta, not playing in the WBC means not watching it as well. The urge to compete would be too strong.

“I just don’t think I’m going to watch it,” he said. “I don’t really like to watch baseball on TV and go to the field and watch it, because it makes me anxious to play.”
 
Cust receives deal

The Rays announced Sunday morning that they agreed to a minor-league contract with free agent outfielder Jack Cust. He spent last season with Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (New York Yankees) and Class AAA Las Vegas (Toronto Blue Jays), hitting .243 with 72 RBI and a .400 on-base percentage.

“Obviously, what they’ve got going on here, I’ve admired it from the opposing dugout for years,” said Cust, 34, who has spent parts of 10 major league seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners. “Joe [Maddon] and his staff, what they’re doing here is just amazing … You hear only great things about the organization. It’s somewhere where I always thought to myself that it would be cool to play over there.”
 
Scott eager to return

Designated hitter Luke Scott arrived Sunday morning, making him one of three players who did not report early (minor-league infielder Hak-Ju Lee and shortstop Yunel Escobar were the other two). Numerous injuries, including back problems, were to blame for him being held to 314 at-bats in 96 games last season. He said health is a priority this summer.

“I always knew that I had more in me,” said Scott, who batted .229 with 55 RBI last year. “The injuries that we had, they were difficult. They were just freak things that occurred and … it was a challenge. Things didn’t go the way I wanted to last year. I worked hard for it. I prepared. I put in the time. I put in the effort. That’s life. Not everything works out the way you planned.”