PHOENIX — It’s puzzling to place a finger on why a pitcher as talented as Wily Peralta is a notorious slow starter, but the young right-hander has battled early-season struggles quite a bit in his professional career.
Last year was no different, as Peralta went 3-6 with a 6.35 ERA in his first 11 starts of the season. His late season turnaround showed what he can do, but the 24-year-old is trying a different routine to try and come out of the gates strong in his second full season in the big leagues.
"I think I learned a lot (last year), preparation especially," Peralta said. "I got ready a little bit earlier than I usually do. I’m a little more comfortable with myself being ready for the season.
"I know last year I had a tough first half and I didn’t want to do the same thing this year."
Peralta said he began preparing for spring training about two weeks earlier than he did last year and the early returns have been impressive. It’s hard to know if simply practicing earlier has had a direct impact, but Peralta has a 3.24 ERA in 8 1/3 innings this spring.
He didn’t allow a run and walked just two in his first two Cactus League outings. Peralta struggled a bit Sunday against Cleveland, allowing three earned runs and walking two in 3 1/3 innings.
"I don’t know why he’s been a slow starter in his career, but he’s been a slow starter," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "The outing (earlier in spring training), I saw numbers on it and it was pretty impressive.
"Velocities were ridiculous for this early. And I don’t think he was overthrowing. He threw some good sliders, threw some good changeups — which he is working on getting into his game more this year. He was pretty impressive."
The Brewers stayed patient with Peralta and were rewarded in the second half. Including a six-start stretch in July where he put up a 2.13 ERA, Peralta went 6-6 with a 3.15 ERA in his final 15 starts. He became the first Brewers rookie to throw a shutout since Ben Sheets in 2001 when he blanked Cincinnati on July 9.
Then there was the game on Aug. 11 in Seattle where the promising young right-hander went toe-to-toe with former American League Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. Peralta took the loss, but allowed just four hits and two earned runs in a complete-game effort.
Peralta has showed his top of the rotation stuff in spurts, but now he needs to put it all together.
"That’s the thing I’m trying to do," Peralta said. "As a starting pitcher, that’s what you have to do to have success in the big leagues. That’s the thing I’m focused on this year, trying to be consistent right away. I don’t want to wait until the second half like I did last year."
Part of Peralta’s struggles last season came from simply losing control over his emotions on the mound. An infield single or a flared hit would cause Peralta to try and overthrow, compounding his issues. Bad luck happens all the time for pitchers but the good ones can pitch through it.
Peralta said he learned during the year to take a short walk around the mound when he gets mad and then move on to the next pitch.
His comfort zone also included having Martin Maldonado serve as his personal catcher. The two had worked together quite a bit in the minor leagues, and Maldonado cam communicate well with Peralta in Spanish.
While the Brewers have no issue playing their defensive ace Maldonado, they are going to need Jonathan Lucroy in the lineup more often than not. Roenicke said Lucroy catching Peralta has been discussed this spring.
"With Peralta last year, we thought it was the personality of Maldy being able to control the emotional guy," Roenicke said. "It changes with everybody else. There’s some guys that you’d like to match up because that pitcher will never shake off a pitch. So who’s your better game-caller? It changes year to year by the personnel you have in there.
"Our two catchers, both of them bring us something different. Maldy, I thought, was important last year with Wily. Now Wily may be at a stage this year where he doesn’t have to have Maldy back there, especially if there’s a left-handed pitcher going that night. The way ‘Luc’ hits lefties, maybe it’s a better idea to get ‘Luc; in there. But we need to get Wily going on a roll, and once he’s on a roll, I don’t think it really matters who catches him."
Peralta feels the key to getting on an early-season roll is getting his slider and changeup ready to go by throwing more of them in spring training games.
"I want my off-speed (pitches) to be ready a little bit earlier," Peralta said. "I didn’t have it the first half last year. After I had it in the second half last year I started doing better. I know I can do it from the beginning. I did it for the whole second half. I think I’m going to be better."
If Peralta is indeed better, the Brewers will benefit greatly. He currently slots in as Milwaukee’s fourth starter with Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo sitting at the top of the rotation, and there aren’t many No. 4 pitchers in the National League with Peralta’s talent.
"We have a great rotation," Peralta said. "The first three in the rotation have great experience pitching in the league.
"Those guys, you can learn from them. They attack the hitters and that’s something that I want to learn. Go right after hitters and that will put me up in the count. I really think I can learn from them."
Olmsted released: The Brewers began trimming the roster down Monday by releasing right-hander Michael Olmsted.
The 26-year-old had an impressive spring training in 2013 but struggled to throw strikes when the regular season rolled around. Olmsted walked 40 batters in 52 1/3 innings for Triple-A Nashville, resulting in a 6.71 ERA.
He was demoted to Double-A Huntsville in August and finished the season with six scoreless outings for the Stars. Olmsted came to camp as a non-roster invitee and made two Cactus League appearances with a 6.75 ERA in 1 1/3 innings.
"It’s the command and being able to repeat pitches," Roenicke said of Olmsted’s issues. "He’s got good pitches. He has a good fastball, he has a good slider, but he has to be able to repeat those pitches."
The Brewers hope releasing Olmsted now will give the 6-foot-6, 282-pound power arm a chance to latch on somewhere else.
"We’re pretty deep in Double-A and Triple-A," Roenicke said. "For him to get an opportunity, we thought now was the time instead of putting him on the minor-league side and doing it later.