MESA, Ariz. -- Jose Peraza is relaxed and more at ease in the batter's box and in the Reds' clubhouse, happy to be in his natural position at shortstop. Don't mistake that for complacency, however.While locked in as the starting shortstop for Cincinnati now that Zack Cozart departed as a
MESA, Ariz. -- Jose Peraza is relaxed and more at ease in the batter's box and in the Reds' clubhouse, happy to be in his natural position at shortstop. Don't mistake that for complacency, however.
While locked in as the starting shortstop for Cincinnati now that Zack Cozart departed as a free agent, Peraza is aware much work remains to keep that job.
"I'm working every day and I'm getting better. I feel comfortable," Peraza said on Saturday morning before some early hitting in the cage with coaches. "It's been good."
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Peraza, 23, has already experienced losing out on a role. While learning second base as he replaced Brandon Phillips last year, Peraza struggled at the plate. By the third week of July, Scooter Gennett emerged as the regular second baseman and Peraza went to the bench.
In 143 games, Peraza batted .259/.297/.324 with five home runs and 37 RBIs. His on-base percentage wasn't robust, but he tried to become more selective in the second half.
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When Cozart went down with a quadriceps injury, Peraza played shortstop and did better. Over his final 48 games, he batted .293 with a .361 on-base percentage as he drew more walks. That's the approach he has taken this spring.
"I want to take more pitches. I'm focused on being more selective," Peraza said. "I don't want to chase pitches out of the strike zone. That's what I've been working on right now. When the season starts, the on-base percentage has to be better. I'm focused on that and getting on base more too."
Hitting coaches Don Long and Tony Jaramillo have worked with Peraza on his approach. During a video session on Friday, both coaches again talked to Peraza about being in better hitting position the moment he steps in, that he's square to the plate and reading pitches for as long as possible before swinging.
When Peraza first came to the Reds -- part of a three-way trade with the Dodgers on Dec. 16, 2015 -- he was known for being an aggressive swinger.
"I definitely see the signs he's making the adjustments," Jaramillo said. "He wants to get on base more. He understands that it's his job. We just want to get him to make better decisions."
Another change for Peraza came away from the field. Upon joining the Reds, the Venezuelan spoke little English -- especially in media interviews. In contrast from last season, he's become much more fluent and hasn't needed the assistance of interpreter Julio Morillo.
Like with his hitting, Peraza has made the extra effort.
"Everybody here has helped me," said Peraza, with Morillo standing next to him in case he needed assistance. "I feel more comfortable. I use it when I go out to eat at restaurants, I try to speak English."
Despite his comfort, Peraza probably doesn't have a ton of leeway to endure another slow start. The Reds, who signed experienced shortstop Cliff Pennington to be his backup, also have No. 1 prospect and third baseman Nick Senzel taking a lot of reps at shortstop. Senzel will need a place to play when he eventually debuts in 2018.
Peraza wasn't worried about the situation.
"I want to do my job. I will just play my game," he said.
Jaramillo believed the extra work with Peraza would pay off.
"I definitely believe he can handle the regular at-bats," Jaramillo said. "There is no doubt he will be able to do it."
Peraza said being back at his natural position would help him establish himself.
"I like shortstop. I played it a lot in the Minors and when I was young," Peraza said. "When I was 10, 11, 12 years old, I played shortstop. It's good for me. It's a good opportunity here now. I want to do the best that I can do."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.