Freddy Peralta may not have been a household name in Milwaukee before Sunday, May 13th. He’s certainly on its way to becoming one, however, after the rookie pitcher’s phenomenal debut performance.
The story behind Peralta’s first appearance with the big-league club is ready-made for a major motion picture. Peralta’s family had flown from the Dominican Republic to watch him pitch as a professional for the first time, as Peralta was scheduled to pitch for the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs on Saturday. As fate would have it, Chase Anderson came down with a stomach bug Friday evening, creating the need for the recall of a starting pitcher to make Sunday’s start in Denver against the Rockies. Peralta got the nod, and his family got the upgrade from seeing their son in a run-of-the-mill minor league game to the bright lights of his major-league debut.
The 21-year-old looked noticeably nervous facing his first batter – reigning National League batting champ D.J. Lemahieu. He started off with three straight balls before fighting back to strike Lemahieu out on a fastball spotted perfectly on the inside corner. It was mostly smooth sailing from there, as Peralta proceeded to strike out four of the next five batters he faced, including MLB All-Stars Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado. When it was all said and done, Peralta would end up allowing his first and only hit in the bottom half of the sixth before being removed at 98 pitches while having struck out 13 hitters in 5 and 2/3 innings.
Peralta’s winning formula on Sunday was simple – pound the corners with his deceptive fastball. Sound familiar? It is basically the same plan Josh Hader followed in his first few major-league appearances. Peralta used his fastball on 90 of his 98 pitches, averaging 93.2 mph and reaching back for 96.6 mph at his peak (via Brooks Baseball). He got great movement on the pitch, as he caused 18 whiffs despite not offering premium velocity. He also displayed a sharp slider with good bite that struck out Carlos Gonzalez in the second inning. Surprisingly, Peralta did not throw any change-ups, which by many accounts has the potential to be an above-average pitch.
So, where does Peralta fit into the Brewers’ plans going forward? That is a great question for which the answer may be entirely unknown at this point. With Chase Anderson certainly coming back into the rotation after he can be reinstated from the 10-day DL, there is not a clear vacancy for Peralta to fill, though he likely could stay in Milwaukee and take over the rotation spot that Brandon Woodruff currently occupies after the injuries to Wade Miley and Zach Davies. The decision of keeping Peralta with the big-league club versus sending him back to Colorado Springs for more seasoning likely will hinge on how he and Woodruff perform in their next performances, with the Brent Suter’s prospective outing playing a role as well. If Peralta puts on another show like today, Craig Counsell will have to grasp for any reason not to keep him in the Cream City for the time being.
Despite the questions surrounding what the future may bring, one thing is for certain: Peralta breathed life into a middling rotation on Sunday. The Brewers’ starters rank 21st out of 30 teams in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with 1.2. The bullpen has been shouldering a disproportionate load of this pitching staff’s success, and if Peralta can utilize his electric stuff on a consistent basis, that could go a long way in narrowing the gap between the two units and furthering the Brewers as a legitimate threat for the NL Central crown.