It was mid-September, and the Milwaukee Brewers were in St. Louis to play the first place Cardinals, and though falling quickly by the wayside, the team held some semblance of a shot at a playoff berth.
Wily Peralta started that game, and things unraveled quickly for the right-hander. Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay and Matt Holliday all opened with singles to load the bases. Peralta then walked Matt Adams to bring in a run.
In 2013, Peralta may have melted down mentally at this point, and the Cardinals could’ve crushed the Brewers. But this time, he coaxed a double play out of Jhonny Peralta and got Yadier Molina to ground out.
The damage was limited to two runs, and Peralta pitched an additional six scoreless innings, giving up just three more hits and walking no other batter. The Brewers would then come back to win, 3-2.
It was a defining game in the second full season of work for the 25-year-old (he’ll turn 26 in May), a signal of progress.
"To be able to stop it right there and give the team a chance to win the ballgame, I’m proud with myself," he said.
Could he have done that in 2013?
"Probably not, you know? It’s all about experience. It’s going to help you."
In his second full season as a starter, Peralta improved across the board in any statistical measure, which is important for a franchise that just traded away its last homegrown ace in Yovani Gallardo.
The following were all career bests:
- 17 wins (32 starts)
- 3.53 earned run average
- 198 2/3 innings
- 88 runs (78 earned)
- 61 walks
- 154 strikeouts
- 1.304 WHIP
- 2.7 Wins Above Replacement
"Feel pretty good," Peralta said of his 2014 campaign. "I think this is a good step forward for me and my career to be able to have the year I had this year. That’s pretty good because I had a tough year (in 2013) and I prepared mentally and physically pretty well in the offseason, and to be able to have this year and be consistent that’s the way I want to be. That’s pretty good. I feel amazing with the job that I did this year."
This is especially true because Peralta, who isn’t shy about revealing the goals he sets for himself, reached several in 2014. He wanted to win 15 games, and he wanted to iimprove his command.
Not only did he do that, he did it well, dropping his walk total by 12 while increasing his innings total by 15 1/3.
"That was a thing I wanted to improve that I know I could do," Peralta said. "I was doing it before in the minor league and that’s the thing I got in my mind after (2013) was trying to locate my fastball and command all my pitches. This year I commanded the fastball pretty good. Some games you’re not going to have you best stuff and you’re not going to be commanding, but overall, it was pretty good."
The Brewers have to not only be encouraged by the step Peralta took mentally, and physically, but they may be counting on further progress.
Kyle Lohse is 36 and under contract for just one more season. Matt Garza is 31 and signed through 2017, but he hasn’t made 30 starts since 2011 and has never won more than 15 games.
It is clear, now, that Peralta is the leading candidate to be the franchise’s bell cow at the front of the rotation. And, the big right-hander has committed to laying that groundwork for 30-plus starts and the 200-inning mark over the winter.
"Being healthy this whole year, that’s the offseason stuff," Peralta said. "That’s the way you prepare yourself in the offseason to be healthy. It’s not easy. It’s a lot of innings. It’s a lot of games. All the work that you do in the offseason and part of the work you do in the season, that’s one of the biggest things to keep healthy."
Aside from staying in shape, Peralta did have one goal for 2015 he was willing to share early: he wants to make his changeup a formidable weapon in his arsenal.
"That’s a pitch I want to work on and improve and get my third pitch better," he said. "And, keep working my command. I think it can be better. The most important thing is just to keep my body in shape and work hard. But I think my changeup, that’s one of the pitches I’m going to try and improve a little more and I can throw it a little bit more next year."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.