In the dugout before every game, Diamondbacks right fielder David Peralta points to manager Torey Lovullo and asks if he is ready for the pregame handshake. Then Lovullo asks Peralta the same question.
“He’ll say, ‘I’m always ready. You know. You know,’” Lovullo said, adding emphasis. “It’s a fun routine. He has a fun routine with everybody. He has an excitement to getting the day started, and I think that gets everybody ready for the ball game. We all look forward to that.”
Much was made, justifiably, about the near season-long absence of All-Star center fielder A.J. Pollock and the almost staff-wide slump the consumed the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff during the team’s struggles last year.
The loss of Peralta seemed to slip under the radar, but his play this season has made clear how significant it was. His energy and production have been front and center during the Diamondbacks’ fast start.
“His style of play is that of a winner,” said former general manager Dave Stewart, who was without two-thirds of his projected starting outfield for 264 games combined a year ago. “He’s a big influence on the bench and in the field. He comes to play every day.”
He is making the most of his return after playing only 48 games because of a wrist injury that required surgery and kept him from swinging a bat until January.
Since then, he has looked like the same player who had a breakout season in his first full year in 2015, hitting .312 with 10 triples, 17 homers, 78 RBIs, 9 stolen bases and an .893 OPS. He led the league in triples.
Peralta is second among National-League right fielders in batting average and on-base percentage and third in OPS while hitting second in the lineup (against right-handers) or lower in the order against lefties, an integral part of an offense that is second in the majors in runs, doubles and total bases. He also had 3 stolen bases, tied for the most in the majors at his position.
His one equipment change this season was to a bat that tapers to an axe handle, which eliminates the knob and creates less stress on the bottom hand.
Peralta’s relentless positivity is a value add. Every player draws on a reservoir of emotion, but Peralta may express it as much as anyone. Detailed dugout handshakes are de rigueur. So is constant positive chatter.
And the ”dab.”
Driving the bus is out this sesaon. The dab is in. Pitching coach John Butcher’s son, Brooks, got the D-Backs fired up by using the move popularized by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton one day this spring, and it has become a staple.
“You always talk about the players who bring energy. You want them around,” Lovullo said. “Sometimes it gets a little exhausting, right, but on those days when you need it, you can always count on him to give everybody a push. We love what he brings. We love that intangible. We love payers who play with energy in this environment.”
It is a natural extension of his passion for the game, which shows not only on the field but in his choice of residence. He lives so close to the ballpark that he can walk over and take some swings in the indoor batting cage just about ant time he has the urge.
“Baseball for me is everything,” Peralta said. “So for me, this is my office. I love what I do. How come you’re going to be sad? How come you are going to have no energy when you go to a place where you are with your friends? That’s why I have energy all the time, because this is my life and this is what I love to do. Every time I step on the field, that is the best feeling ever.”
Peralta, who began his career as a pitcher before an arm injury caused him to convert into an outfielder, has continued to evolve as a hitter. He still handles right-handers well, hitting .353 against them this season and .313 against them in his carer. A career .226 hitter against lefties, he is hitting .286 against them in April in a small sample size.
He also has developed an approach to beat the shift he almost always faces — three infielders on the right side of second base. Two of his 3 homers this season have come to left field. He homered and singled to left field Monday, and he lined a double down the left field line Thursday.
“He’s doing work in the cage every day,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said. “Drill work to stay on the ball that is going away from him. The bottom line is, it’s tough to hit left-on-left or even right-on-right guys if you are just using a third of the field. You have to be able to use the whole field.”
Peralta said, “I’m being more patient. I’m swinging at what I want, not at what they want. That’s the key.”
Patience was Perelta’s key this spring as his batting stroke returned.
“He came out with a very focused mentality,” Lovullo said. “He had to prove to himself that he could perform and get his swing plane back. Your hands are a very particular thing in this game, and when you lose strength or the coordination of something in that area, it takes a little while to get it back. We are watching that swing plane return piece by piece, and you can see now it looks like it’s come back full scale.”
The D-Backs will not overwork Peralta this year, and Lovullo set a soft target of 130-135 games.
“It’s good to be back,” Peralta said. “Since Day 1 of spring training, we have been talking about being together as a big family. We have the mentality to come every day and prepare, grind every at-bat, not give up anything. That’s what we are doing right now and that’s why we are having pretty good success. Just having fun. You can feel that energy in the clubhouse. We’re happy. We’re all together.”
By Jack Magruder