Diamondbacks’ outfielder David Peralta gets more than drive the bus. Known for his enthusiasm and creativity, Peralta invented an imaginary bus where his teammates pile on after accomplishments. His up-and-down hand gestures have carried throughout the team, and players now take turns waving their arms and driving the bus.
In addition to the Freight Train description and designated bus driver, Peralta appears to assume a greater and more important responsibility. Not that this is an indictment of Chris Owings’ play in centerfield, Peralta, normally the Diamondbacks’ right fielder, took over in centerfield for Owings in Wednesday night’s game with the St. Louis Cardinals in Chase Field. Indicating he wanted to give Owings the night off against Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright, manager Chip Hale pointed out Peralta will fill in nicely at center.
With a possible center-fielder Socrates Brito toiling in the minors, Owings is struggling a bit in the middle gardens. The defense, which could use a jump-start, may result in Peralta platooning with Owings. While Hale pointed out before Wednesday’s game with the Cardinals that Owings, “for now, he’s our centerfielder,” he noted Peralta could play more between the corner outfielders.
All of this remains the residual effect of losing All-Star centerfielder A. J. Pollock to a fracture right elbow. While Pollock will not begin baseball activity until at least the All-Star game in mid-July, replacement for the former Gold Glover seems to have settled on Owings, a shortstop by trade.
“In spring training, we talked about possible options in all positions,” Hale said. “For the outfield, we think Owings is a good fit. He’s a great athlete, and we know he will do the job.”
If Owings is making adjustments from the infield to the outfielder, that adjustment became painfully clear during Tuesday’s night loss to the Cardinals. In the St. Louis fifth inning, the Cardinals had runners on first and second with one out. Stephen Piscotty then hit a ball to shallow center and Owings slid to make the catch. The ball tipped off his glove and Piscotty ended up on second with a double and critical RBI. That set the table for Brandon Moss to hit a 3-run homer off of Shelby Miller, and send the Diamondbacks down to defeat.
By his admission, Hale believed if the ball was caught, the Cardinals’ inning would have been held in check. The initial response was Pollock gets to the ball and makes the catch. To that end, Owings was given Wednesday off to work with outfielder coach Dave McKay. Here, the Diamondbacks prefer Owings to play a bit deeper, and Peralta concurs.
“It’s much easier to come in than go back,” Peralta said before Wednesday’s game. “For me, there’s not much of a change to play center. I need to make sure I get to my spot, and I’ll be fine. I just want to do my job, and if they ask me to play any position, I’ll be ready.”
Aside from learning how the play center and dealing with the quirks of the centerfield fence in Chase Field, Peralta admitted there is also a learning curve. That’s studying hitters and watching runners.
“We have our meeting before the game and go over the game plan,” he said. “We’re aware of who’s on first, the speed of different guys, and how guys like to hit the ball to certain places.”
For now, Peralta gets the call in an effort to strengthen the defense. With his placement in the line-up, Hale conversely says, “this is our best offensive outfield (with Brandan Drury in right and Yasmany Tomas in left).” Until Pollock’s return, the outfield continues to go through painful experiences and adjustments.
STRUGGLING AT THE PLATE
Despite a blazing start at the plate, shortstop Nick Ahmed has dramatically cooled. After hitting over .400 for the first week of the season, Ahmed has now fallen under the Mendoza Line, or .200. Coming into play Wednesday night, Ahmed was hitting .192, and 0-for-7 in the current Cardinals series.
“Nick continues to watch video and work with (hitting coach Dave Magadan),” said manager Chip Hale before Wednesdays game with St. Louis. “It’s hard to look up (at the scoreboard) and see numbers drop. But, his glove saves runs.”
Before Wednesday’s game, Ahmed led all major league shortstops in in defensive runs saves with seven. That’s ahead of Andrelton Simmons of the Angels (six), and Giants’ Brandon Crawford with four. For perspective, his .977 fielding percentage in 2015 was the fourth best for a shortstop in franchise history.