Cardinals’ Peralta is setting the bar at the plate for MLB shortstops

ST. LOUIS — No matter where Jhonny Peralta bats in the lineup, the results hardly seem to change.

Peralta might not be the ideal No. 3 or No. 4 hitter, roles manager Mike Matheny feels are better suited for Matt Holliday and Matt Adams, respectively. But with Adams out for possibly the rest of the season with a quadriceps strain and Holliday out for nearly an entire weekend series with illness, the Cardinals’ consistent shortstop has stepped in nicely to fill the holes.

"You don’t have many guys that can handle that 3 spot, 4 spot and not look any different at all," Matheny said. "Jhonny just takes a professional at-bat, always has the opportunity and the ability to hurt you."

In fact, Peralta has been at his best in the 3-hole, batting .429 with five walks in 21 at-bats this season. That included a two-run home run on the first pitch he saw to put the Cardinals ahead Sunday against the Dodgers, a fitting tribute to his late friend Oscar Taveras, who homered in his major league debut exactly one year before.

The celebration of Taveras’ life made it an emotional day for Peralta, who singled home another run in the eighth to give St. Louis a 3-1 win. His big day moved him ahead of Matt Carpenter for the team lead with 30 RBIs.

No shortstop has been more productive at the plate than Peralta, who leads all major league hitters at his position with a .310 average, .373 on-base percentage and .519 slugging percentage. Only Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores can match Peralta’s eight home runs, six of which came in May.

He recorded at least one hit in 24 of 28 games since a rare day out of the lineup on April 30. Peralta has been particularly hot and taking advantage of runners on base in front of him lately, posting a .357 average with two home runs and nine RBIs in his last seven games.

"(Since) the beginning of the season, I feel really good at home plate," Peralta says. "I know last year was tough for me because I came into the National League and everything.

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"I didn’t know too much about the pitching, but this year I feel more comfortable at home plate."

The offensive prowess he showed as a two-time All-Star for Detroit has returned, and he’s on pace to challenge his career highs of 24 home runs and 89 RBIs, not to mention a .303 batting average. So long as Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter stay hot at the top of the lineup, Peralta should get all the opportunities he needs.

Holliday, who leads the Cardinals with a .434 on-base percentage and has reached base in an NL-record 44 straight games to start the season, will return soon and take back his No. 3 spot in the lineup. But whether Peralta remains in the cleanup spot or moves back to fifth, don’t expect him to make any changes to his approach.

At age 31 and in the second season of a four-year, $54 million deal, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.