Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Joel Peralta has been a fighter throughout his career

PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Maddon's nickname for reliever Joel Peralta is "El Cam­peon," Spanish for "the champion," because as Maddon sees it, Peralta has been a fighter throughout his career.

Peralta, 34, signed by the Rays to pitch in the late innings, also is a late bloomer. A failed infielder, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Dominican reinvented himself as a pitcher and at one point considered walking away from baseball.

But Peralta kept his faith and now is one of the few locks to make the Rays' bullpen.

"He's a survivor," Maddon said. "He's one of those guys who every year had to come out and prove himself. He's probably never walked into camp feeling comfortable about his lot and position, and I think he does here now. He knows he's on the team.

"He's had to … overcome the fact he's not big and (convince) people 'Even though I'm not big, I can get guys out.' And I think he's done a great job at that."

Peralta signed with the A's in 1997 with dreams of becoming a big-league shortstop.

"But I couldn't hit at all," he said.

After getting waived the next year, Peralta played for an amateur team in the Dominican Republic run by good friend Fausto Mejia. Out of pitchers one day, Mejia asked Peralta to give pitching a shot. Despite having not pitched since Little League, Peralta showed promise. A couple of months later, the Angels signed him after a tryout.

It was a rocky road. Over five minor-league seasons, Peralta rode buses while in Butte, Mont.; Boise, Idaho; Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Arkansas. He picked up 106 saves but couldn't sniff the majors. In 2002, when Peralta hurt his back and was demoted from Double A to A, he thought his career was over.

"I said, 'Man, I don't know if I'm going to make it,' " he said. "And then my brother (Frank) pushed me. He told me, 'Hey, don't quit. You're good. You're going to be something, so keep working.' I went to A ball, got healthy and took off."

When Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez got hurt in May 2005, Peralta got his shot. He remembers getting the call in the afternoon, and in the next 24 hours, "I didn't sleep even 20 seconds. It was unbelievable, the best feeling ever."

From there, Peralta pitched for the Royals (2006-08), Rockies (2009) and Nationals (2010). Last year he went 1-0 with a 2.02 ERA over 49 innings, pitching primarily in the sixth, seventh and eighth.

But Peralta will always be grateful to the Angels for giving him a chance. Maddon, then an Angels bench coach, said he earned it.

"I remember a small guy. You're not expecting a whole lot. How could this guy, as a relief pitcher, have the stamina to pitch and the stuff to get good hitters out?" Maddon said. "And he kept proving people wrong and wrong and wrong. I definitely see the evolution of him. A lot if it has to do with self-confidence. He's a very self-confident pitcher right now. And he definitely has that sense of belonging."

The Rays have eyed Peralta for a long time. In November 2005, the day after principal owner Stuart Sternberg took over, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said they put in a waiver claim for Peralta but were second to Kansas City.

"He would have been our first move," Friedman said.

Since the Rays signed Peralta in December to a one-year contract, pitching coach Jim Hickey said he has lived up to his reputation. Peralta asked to pitch in today's controlled scrimmage.

"He's basically a workhorse. He would never say no," Hickey said. "He takes the ball every time."

Peralta would love the ball in the ninth inning but said other capable arms are in camp. Though Peralta doesn't have a dominant fastball or command, he has a really good combination of the two, along with a split-finger fastball Hickey said can be a "plus-plus pitch."

"I have been impressed with his stuff and the way he knows how to use it," Hickey said. "He knows exactly what he wants to do."

Peralta feels blessed to be here, and you can see that in the way he carries himself. He is a high-energy, happy guy who has endeared himself to teammates and coaches. And despite his long journey, he's not slowing.

"'Like with wine," Peralta said, smiling, "the older the better."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever Joel Peralta has been a fighter throughout his career 02/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 24, 2011 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays beat Orioles, but tough stretch looms that could change their plans (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tuesday was a step back in the right direction for the Rays, who halted a season-high five-game losing streak by hanging on — and we mean that pretty much literally — for a 5-4 win over the Orioles.

    The Rays’ Tim Beckham celebrates with Mallex Smith after hitting a three-run homer in the second inning for a 5-0 lead.
  2. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    Rookie RHP Jake Faria had his lucky rubber duck — OG, the original one he has had since high school — with him, and the Rays had nothing to worry about as he put his rocky Wednesday outing well behind him, working into the eighth while scattering seven hits.

  3. Rays journal: Rookie Jacob Faria continues to show veteran poise

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Orioles threatened in the first inning and the second. They loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning with the top of the order up and seemed poised for a big inning. But those opportunities produced only one run because Rays rookie RHP Jacob Faria kept his composure and got the …

    Jacob Faria goes a career-high 71/3 innings, staying composed when the Orioles threaten.
  4. Rays vs. Orioles, 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field

    Sports

    Today: vs. Orioles

    12:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM

    Tickets: $15-$275; available at Tropicana Field box office, raysbaseball.com, surcharge of up to $5 within 5 hours of game time.

    PORT CHARLOTTE, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Alex Cobb #53 of the Tampa Bay Rays poses for a portrait during the Tampa Bay Rays photo day on February 18, 2017 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Floida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
  5. Bruce Arena blends intense demands with humor to lead U.S. soccer

    Soccer

    SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Bruce Arena bites his fingernails religiously, a habit he has had since age 10.

    Among some other unmentionables.

    Bruce Arena