JUPITER, Fla. — St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta checked into spring training camp four days ahead of the mandatory reporting date, eager to greet his new teammates Thursday and move past last year’s problems.
The two-time All-Star was suspended for 50 games last season while with Detroit because of his involvement with the Biogenesis drug scandal.
Peralta became a free agent after the season ended and signed a four-year contract with the Cardinals worth $53 million, a deal that didn’t sit well with many around baseball.
While St. Louis fans seemed to welcome Peralta, he expects that reception to change once the Cardinals hit the road.
"I know a lot of fans, they are going to talk," Peralta said. "They are going to say a lot of things. It’s baseball. You need to forget about it and try to play baseball."
The 31-year-old hadn’t met most of the Cardinals players or coaches prior to his arrival in camp, though he did receive offseason texts from the likes of left fielder Matt Holliday and manager Mike Matheny.
"Getting here early is important," Peralta said. "I want to know everybody here in the clubhouse before everything starts, meet every coach and every training guy."
Matheny and Peralta spoke in person for the first time on Thursday.
"He’s here early, obviously, and it’s exciting to see, just like everybody else," Matheny said. "His excuse isn’t (escaping the) snow, either. I think he just wanted to be here and get with his team. We are anxious to let him feel his way through this and start to build those relationships."
Anemic offensive production from shortstops Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso in 2013, and the lack of a big league-ready prospect in the farm system, prompted the Cardinals to sign Peralta.
Both Kozma and Descalso will be back in Cardinals camp. Last October, they went a combined 1 for 20 while splitting the shortstop job in the World Series loss to Boston.
Peralta hit .303 with 11 homers and 55 RBI in 107 regular season games last season. He sports a career .268 average with 156 home runs.
If all goes as expected this spring, Peralta will be the Cardinals’ eighth opening day shortstop in eight years, joining a largely forgettable list that includes Ryan Theriot and Tyler Greene.
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"From a defensive standpoint we look at (Peralta) as a consistent everyday player," St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak said. "From an offensive standpoint, I think he’s one of the more elite shortstops in the game."
Mozeliak isn’t concerned that performance-enhancing drugs artificially inflated Peralta’s production. Peralta returned to the Tigers for the playoffs following his suspension and hit .333 with five extra-base hits and six RBI in two postseason series.
The 2012 season, in which Peralta hit .239 with 13 home runs, coincided with his link to Biogenesis.
"When you look at his offensive performance, that was one of the down years he had," Mozeliak said.
Peralta made his major league debut with Cleveland in 2003. The Indians traded him to Detroit during the 2010 season, where he spent the previous three full seasons.
Thursday marked the first official workout for Cardinals’ pitcher and catchers. Position players don’t have to take the field until Tuesday, but Peralta joined a handful of infielders who took groundballs on a back field at Roger Dean Stadium.
NOTES: Non-roster pitcher Sam Gaviglio reported to camp. Flight cancellations caused by weather conditions kept Gaviglio from arriving in South Florida until Wednesday night. Fellow non-roster invitee Jose Almarante (visa issues) is the lone player expected at camp who has yet to report.