CLEVELAND — Tigers all-star shortstop Jhonny Peralta admitted Monday to what he called a “terrible mistake” after accepting a 50-game suspension for his role in baseball’s latest — and most sweeping — performance-enhancing drugs scandal.
If the news was expected, his sudden exile still hung heavy over the Tigers.
Talk before their game at Cleveland centered on anything but the division rivals’ biggest series to date.
Peralta’s suspension leaves Detroit with a major void in its lineup and mixed feelings among teammates who, as pitcher Justin Verlander said, considered the quiet but well-liked shortstop a “brother.”
“In spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret,” Peralta said in a statement, referring to his connection with Biogenesis of America, a tainted former anti-aging clinic in Florida accused of distributing PEDs. “I apologize to everyone that I have hurt as a result of my mistake, including my teammates, the Tigers’ organization, the great fans in Detroit, Major League Baseball, and my family. I take full responsibility for my actions, have no excuses for my lapse in judgment, and I accept my suspension.
“I love the fans, my teammates, and this organization, and my greatest punishment is knowing that I have let so many good people down. I promise to do everything possible to try and earn back the respect that I have lost.”
Whether he will do it for the Tigers remains uncertain. Peralta will be eligible to return for the final week of the regular season, but General Manager Dave Dombrowski declined to discuss the possibility. He said he met with Peralta, who is batting .305 with 11 home runs, and supported his decision not to appeal the suspension.
Peralta, one of 13 players suspended Monday by Major League Baseball, could have continued to play under an appeal, which has led some to label him selfish. He is a free agent after the season, and it would not have been in his interest to have the suspension looming during contract negotiations.
“Jhonny’s a really good person, conducted himself well, and kept performing for our club," Dombrowski said. "Yet he’s done something no one can condone. He broke the rules. He has to pay a price for it. We support that totally.”
Peralta’s teammates’ responded in similar tones, reflecting the feelings of a day alternately considered a black eye for baseball and a necessary step to cleaning up the game.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer said he likes Peralta, but, “It’s pretty apparent how I feel about cheaters.”
“With Jhonny, it’s disappointing. It really is,” he said.
Verlander said he did not know if the Tigers would welcome Peralta back, though he left the door open.
“If my brother makes a mistake, and especially if he owns up to it and serves the time, I don’t see how you can hold a grudge," he said.
Manager Jim Leyland, meanwhile, was in no mood to join the discussion. Asked about Peralta, he shooed reporters out of his office.
“See you guys,” he said about a minute into his pregame briefing. “See you later. You were told that I wasn’t going to comment on it. See you.”
For now, the Tigers are focused on moving forward. Peralta, traded to Detroit in 2010 after eight seasons in Cleveland, represents a major loss. Dombrowski believes Jose Iglesias, 23, acquired last week in anticipation of Peralta’s suspension, will be a capable fill-in at shortstop. Iglesias offers more defensive range but a less potent bat, though he is batting .323 this season.
“It will change the look of our club a little,“ Dombrowski said, “but moving on, we still have a chance to win a world championship.”
NO BIG DEAL?:
Indians manager Terry Francona has said time and again no regular-season game is bigger than another.
But who is he kidding?
“I hope our guys enjoy the heck out of these four games against [the Tigers],” he said Monday. “If you don’t have a heartbeat now, you’re probably semicomatose. This is fun. This is why these guys show up to spring training and work hard. We’re in the middle of August right now, and every game is so meaningful. That’s a lot of fun.”
Cleveland (62-49) began the series trailing the first-place Tigers (64-45) by three games.
EXTRA INNINGS: Tigers second baseman Omar Infante is set to begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday with the Mud Hens in Columbus. Infante, on the disabled list since July 4 with an injured ankle, plans to DH today and play second base before possibly rejoining Detroit. ... The Tigers called up second baseman Hernan Perez from Double-A Erie and welcomed back reliever Jeremy Bonderman. Bonderman, a starter for Detroit from 2003 to 2010, had thrown 9 2/3 scoreless innings for the Hens since being signed to a minor-league deal last month. The Tigers optioned reliever Evan Reed to Toledo.