September 22, 2013 at 1:26 am

Terry Foster

Dirks coming on for Tigers, but Peralta might change things

Detroit — No one respects Andy Dirks.

The Tigers are trying to see if they can replace Dirks in left field with a man who hasn’t played in two months and the Chicago White Sox dissed him twice during Saturday night’s wild and crazy, 7-6 victory in 12 innings at Comerica Park.

After the White Sox gave him a fat cheeseburger that Dirks planted in the seats for a three-run home run, what did they do in the deciding 12th inning? The Sox walked Prince Fielder to get to Dirks, because that is what you do even when he is on a roll.

He did not get the game-winning hit. That honor went to Omar Infante, who dribbled one off pitcher Jacob Petricka’s glove, allowing Don Kelly to score the winning run.

Now the magic number for the Tigers to clinch the American League Central title is two, which means they can clinch at home if they beat the White Sox Sunday and Houston pulls a miracle and beats Cleveland.

Despite his heroics there is no guarantee Dirks will be the Tigers’ starting left fielder come playoff time, although I suspect he will.

Former shortstop and PED user Jhonny Peralta could be the man if his probable three-game stint against the Florida Marlins proves he can be more useful than Dirks.

Dirks shrugged.

“I just come out and play,” he said. “When they put me in the lineup, I play, and when they don’t, I am ready to come in off the bench.”

Tigers like Peralta

Ramon Santiago says Peralta is loved in the dressing room. He is a good guy who made a mistake when he used performance-enhancing drugs. He said teammates already are preparing to lay down a welcome mat for his likely return next week against the Marlins, where Peralta basically would be returning to try out for a spot on the playoff roster.

Can Peralta do for the Tigers in left field what Mickey Stanley did for the 1968 World Series champion Tigers at shortstop?

“It’s a potential option,” Leyland said. “That’s what this is. We have no idea how this is going to play out.”

Dirks showed Saturday night he has no intention of giving up his spot easily.

“I think he is relaxing a little bit more,” Leyland said. “He is a really good player. He is a good hitter. For whatever reason there have been times where he has not been able to relax in RBI situations.”

The questions for Peralta should be simple ones. Can he play left field defensively well enough to replace Dirks? Will his offensive eye be the same as it was before his 50-game suspension? If those answers come back positive, then Peralta should be added to the playoff roster.

If he falls short, then, see ya, pal. Good luck with your future.

The Tigers do not need to make a morality play. Do not ax Peralta because he disappointed teammates and hurt his team by cheating. The Tigers are in World Series-or-bust mode. If they believe Peralta can help then win a World Series, then dump Dirks for him.

“Jhonny is really a great guy,” Santiago said. “The guys really like him and they are ready to welcome him back. He has admitted his mistakes. He apologized to us. That is all we need.”

Pitcher Justin Verlander backed Santiago when I spoke to him.

“First of all, it is not my decision,” Verlander said. “But I look at him as a teammate and a brother. Of course we would welcome him back.”

Numbers are telling

I do not feel as warm and fuzzy about Peralta as his teammates do. This is business. The Tigers are on the verge of winning their third straight American League Central Division title. They will pop champagne corks and go about the business of trying to win their first World Series since 1984.

Here are some numbers to consider:

Peralta is batting .305 with an on-base percentage of .361. He has hit 11 home runs and driven in 54 runs. Dirks is batting .262 with an OBP of .328 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs.

I looked up other numbers against American League teams likely to be in the playoffs. Those teams are Boston, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Oakland and Texas. One of them will be eliminated, but they are all top-flight teams.

With Peralta in the lineup against those teams, the Tigers are 18-8, bat .297 and average 6.0 runs. Without Peralta, the Tigers are 9-7, bat .289 and average 4.8 runs. That is a huge difference.

So, who you got in this race? Dirks? Or Peralta?

terry.foster@detroitnews.com
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Andy Dirks cut the White Sox lead to 6-5 with his three-run homer in the ninth inning. / Robin Buckson/The Detroit News