As pitchers stretched behind him at the spring training complex on Wednesday, Royals manager Ned Yost addressed the media for the first time this spring with a grin casually stretching his cheeks.
It was the first official practice of camp. It was still too soon to make sweeping declarations about what the pitching staff might look like at the end of March, still too early to prophesize who will take over first base if the Royals do not re-sign free agent Eric Hosmer.
But Yost could feel encouraged about the new energy surrounding him — and he could crack jokes about the crowd of unfamiliar faces he has to learn.
“We’re back to wearing our uniform tops because I want our fans to see, you know, ‘Who’s that guy?’ because it’s not like it was in years past where you’d recognized Hos off the bat, or Moose or Gordy or one of these guys,” Yost said. “We’ve got a bunch of new names out there.”
Among them is former Brewers starter Wily Peralta, whom the Royals signed in December.
Peralta showed up at Brewers spring training last year hoping to mount a successful comeback campaign, but he stumbled. He eventually cleared waivers after being designated for assignment in July and finished the season with the Brewers’ Class AAA affiliate.
He’s going to try to rejuvenate his career again, only this time with a team that has a track record of converting former starters into successful relievers.
“I think I have a lot left in my career,” said Peralta, who recorded a career-worst 7.85 ERA in 19 major-league games last year. “My arm is healthy. I just need to be consistent as possible and prove that I still can (pitch).”
He signed a one-year contract with a club option for the 2019 season and is on the 40-man roster. Peralta is most likely to become part of the Royals’ bullpen, which as camp begins is currently a band of misfits reeling from the departures of Joakim Soria and Scott Alexander. The Royals have a sizable group contending for spots, including 36-year-old non-roster invitee and veteran reliever Blaine Boyer.
Peralta, 28, is only three seasons removed from a successful stint as the fourth man in the Brewers rotation. He had a 17-11 record and 3.53 ERA on a team that finished third in the National League Central in 2014. He was on an upward trajectory.
But Peralta couldn’t stay healthy. He missed two months with an oblique strain in 2015 and said a hamstring strain bothered him throughout 2016, when he earned an opening day start. He compiled a 4.80 ERA and 12-21 record over 43 starts spanning those seasons.
Despite being determined to get back on track last year, Peralta wound up moving to the bullpen after recording a 6.08 ERA in eight starts to open the season. He continued to struggle, allowing 23 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings of relief.
But the Royals saw a worthwhile reclamation project in Peralta.
Peralta, of course, is eager to reassure them.
“I definitely know what I can do and I think the organization does too,” said Peralta, who signed with the Brewers out of his native Dominican Republic at 16 years old. “That’s why they wanted to bring me here, because they know what I’m capable of. I simply have to show it and demonstrate it so everyone can see.”