Through much of a .196 March and April, Jhonny Peralta kept telling himself to relax. He had six home runs and five doubles in his first month as a Cardinal but just eight hits otherwise.
“In the beginning, I tried to hit everything,” said Peralta, who is batting .339 for May after a run-scoring double and a 444-foot homer Tuesday night in a 5-0 Cardinals win over Arizona. “I wanted to show the fans what I could do.
“Then I tried to calm down and hit how I hit.”
Peralta has jumped his average to .252, his highest of the season. He has a wide edge on the club in homers at nine, five more than anyone else, and he has 19 extra-base hits, tied with Matt Carpenter for the team lead.
“I know what kind of player I am,” said the 31-year-old Peralta, “and I believe in myself.
“The more we play, I try to learn more about the pitchers we’ve never faced before and I feel more comfortable.”
General manager John Mozeliak, who signed Peralta for four years and $53 million after he had starred in Cleveland and Detroit, said Peralta looked comfortable enough anyway.
“I thought he’s looked pretty good all along,” said Mozeliak. “He hit in some hard luck early. He definitely wasn’t getting balls to drop.
“But the one thing we knew about him was that he did hit the ball hard. And you’re starting to see it. You feel confident when he’s at the plate.”
Peralta has as much pop or more as any No. 7 hitter in the league, although he probably will bat second against some lefthanders. He is on pace for 32 home runs.
“I’ve never hit 30,” he said. “The most I hit was 24 (in 2005 with Cleveland). But I don’t try to hit home runs. I just try to make good contact with the ball, but it’s good the home runs are coming, too.”
The only negative about Peralta’s offense now is his poor average with men in scoring position. He is five for 38 (.132).
“I don’t know to explain those situations,” he said. “It’s not that I’m trying to do too much. The pitchers have been throwing better pitches to me with men on base, but I’m trying to do my job. Sometimes, it’s not working.”
The sixth-inning jolt off Arizona’s Bronson Arroyo may have been the hardest-hit ball by Peralta this season. “I’ve hit home runs pretty hard before,” he said. “I’ve had some in Cleveland.
“I don’t try to pay attention to how far I can hit the ball but sometimes I hit it pretty far.”
Peralta has hit all nine of his homers against righthanders this season, and his home run Tuesday was only the ninth he had hit in his career on an 0-2 count. It was his first homer this year not struck against a National League Central Division opponent.
“He hasn’t had a lot of success against Arroyo (two for 14), so it was nice to see him have some big at-bats against him,” said manager Mike Matheny. “He hammered that homer. That ball was not a cheapie.”
The Cardinals were a distant last in the league in home runs with 23 before Matt Adams ended an eight-game, 74-inning dry spell for the club with a two-run blast off Arroyo in the first.
“But we’ve got a pretty good lineup and we’re going to get better and better,” said Peralta.
Whether or not the Cardinals will go on a home-run spree remains to be seen. “We don’t try to hit homers,” Peralta said. “The homers come by themselves.
“I think when the weather is getting hot, the ball is going to carry more. That’s what I hear. And the ball carried better today.”
In any event, Matheny said before the game the home runs were going to be “accidental. We’ve yet to have that meeting that everyone wants us to have and tell everybody to start hitting home runs,” said Matheny.
“We’re going about it the right way.”
Afield, Peralta had only three balls hit to him in nine innings as Adam Wainwright was in complete control for the 2 hour 20 minute outing, which would have been shorter but for a change in umpires.
“He’s a really smart pitcher,” said Peralta. “He knows where he wants to throw the ball and that’s all that we need.”
“It’s good that he pitches fast,” Peralta said with a smile. “We get to go home early.”