MIAMI (AP) Jhonny Peralta returned from a 50-game suspension Friday night, starting in left field for the Detroit Tigers against the Miami Marlins.
That's right, the career infielder is trying a new position in an effort to earn a spot on Detroit's postseason roster. And Peralta is so excited to be back that he's fine with the change.
"This is an emotional day for me," Peralta said. "This is where I want to be. I want to be back with the team, helping in any way I can."
Peralta was suspended for 50 games as part of baseball's investigation into Biogenesis of America, a Florida anti-aging clinic accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs. He played 104 games at shortstop before the punishment, but Jose Iglesias took over at that position while he was out.
Peralta prepared for his new spot by playing seven innings in left field during an instructional league game on Thursday, but he did not catch a fly ball. In fact, in 15 years as a pro baseball player, Peralta has zero outfield putouts.
"I feel comfortable judging the ball off the bat," he said. "We'll see what happens. It's a different position for me. I'm excited."
Besides defense, Peralta also has to worry about his swing. The AL Central champion Tigers want to see if he can regain his timing and earn a place on their roster for the division series.
Peralta was in the fifth spot in the lineup for the series opener at Miami, and is expected to play in all three games this weekend. Iglesias also is expected to get his first at-bats Friday since he hurt his hand on Sept. 19.
Rick Porcello, who was slated to start Friday's game, has been shifted to the bullpen, which is where manager Jim Leyland plans to use him in the postseason.
Leyland said he will pitch Porcello out of the bullpen Friday and once more this weekend to get him acclimated to the role. He also said Porcello was supportive of the move.
Left-hander Jose Alvarez started in place of Porcello, who had a 1.66 ERA in his past three starts. Second baseman Omar Infante and right fielder Torii Hunter were out of the lineup so they could rest.
Leyland said any decisions about the postseason roster will be made next week. Peralta needs to "get acclimated to the overall speed of the game" offensively, defensively and on the basepaths, Leyland said.
"But I've always said that spring training is too long," Leyland said. "Those position players get there for five days, and they are ready to play a game - maybe not a whole game, but they're ready.
"The only difference is that you are going to see guys at their best now, and you're not seeing guys getting ready for a season."
Leyland added that Peralta has always been good at catching popups.
"He'll just be catching longer popups now," he said.
Detroit was without two relievers for the opener against Miami. Left-hander Phil Coke will not pitch this weekend due to elbow inflammation, and right-hander Bruce Rondon was going to be evaluated Friday night to determine his status for the rest of the weekend. Rondon is dealing with elbow soreness.
It also was announced that All-Star third baseman Miguel Cabrera will rest during Sunday's regular-season finale.