Farewell, "Fastball Freddy."
Freddy Peralta's rise through the Milwaukee Brewers' farm system and his early success at the big-league level was fueled largely by an above-average fastball complemented by an occasional curveball. His over-reliance on the fastball also led to some painful learning experiences for the young pitcher.
Now, with a quality slider and emerging changeup added to his arsenal, Peralta earned a spot in Milwaukee's starting rotation. As he prepares to face the Chicago Cubs on Monday at American Family Field, he's starting to look more like the up-and-coming star the Brewers envisioned when he made his major league debut in 2018.
"I think we overlook how difficult it is to get big-league hitters out with one pitch,” Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook said. “(Peralta) is able to get guys out with one pitch, but I think there’s a freedom he feels and I think that’s what you’re seeing now. ‘I’ve got a slider. I’ve got a changeup. I’ve got a curveball. I’ve got options. I never feel like I’m stuck and I have to make a perfect pitch.’"
Through two appearances — a two-inning relief outing and a five-inning start against the Cubs last week — 49% of Peralta's pitches have been fastballs, 42% have been sliders and 6% have been changeups.
Compare that to his first two seasons, when he went to the fastball 78% of the time or even 2020 when 66% of his pitches were fastballs, and the difference is stunning.
As are the results.
His ERA, which jumped from 4.25 as a rookie to 5.29 in 2019, dropped to 3.99 last season. His strikeout rate climbed each season, from 11.0 per nine innings in 2019 to 18.0 through two appearances this season.
Since making his debut in May 2018, Peralta’s 12.26 strikeout rate is the fourth-best in baseball, trailing only Chris Sale, Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer.
“The work is just really, really good,” Hook said. “Freddy’s been in this. He’s himself out on the mound. You’re seeing an attacking guy that’s not hair-on-fire and I think that he’s very comfortable with what he’s doing. And with that freedom, I think we’re going to continue to see success.”
Against the Cubs, Peralta allowed just one hit with eight strikeouts over five scoreless innings. He did allow four walks (and three in his two-inning debut against the Twins on Opening Day) but the ability to keep hitters guessing has allowed him to limit the damage of those free passes.
"I have more room, more space where I can go," Peralta said. "It’s different."
The greater variety has also allowed Peralta to make in-game adjustments, which was the case last week in Chicago. He and catcher Omar Narvaez watched how Cubs hitters approached their at-bats and used that information to change the plan of attack.
And as he prepares to face Chicago's lineup for a second consecutive outing, he knows that even more adjustments will be necessary.
"This game is about adjustments," Peralta said. "When I’m on the mound, I have to see the reaction of the hitters to see what’s working for me that day, to see if I have to change a little bit or keep throwing the same pitches.
"The moment lets me know what’s better."
From the infirmary
Travis Shaw and Christian Yelich are both day-to-day after leaving Sunday's game with injuries.
Lower-back soreness led manager Craig Counsell to replace Yelich with Jackie Bradley Jr. in the bottom of the third inning while Shaw was pulled in the fifth after fouling a pitch off his leg during the fourth inning.
"We'll see how they're doing tomorrow," Counsell said. "We're not ruling them out, but we'll see how they're doing when they get to the field."
Counsell described Shaw's injury as a "right shin contusion," but the third baseman said it was actually his right ankle and he expected to be available and in the lineup against the Cubs.
As for Yelich, the back issue is one that has flared up at times over the past two seasons.
Around the horn
Avisail Garcia's second home run in as many games marked the 100th of his career. ... After scoring 20 runs through their first eight games, the Brewers combined for 20 in their past two. ... Catchers Omar Narvaez and Manny Pina combined for 10 hits, three home runs and six RBIs during the trip. ... Bradley took over for Yelich in left field Sunday, his first appearance at the position since Oct. 1, 2015.