MILWAUKEE — One of the reasons the Milwaukee Brewers feel so good about their starting rotation is the ability they have to match their fourth and fifth starters up against any pitcher in baseball and have a chance.
Entering Monday, Padres ace Andrew Cashner was throwing the ball as well as anybody in baseball.
Cashner was instead added to the list of top of the rotation arms beaten by Milwaukee’s fifth starter, as Wily Peralta was sharp again over 6 1/3 innings and the bullpen shut the door again in a 4-3 victory over the Padres at Miller Park.
The Brewers improved to 4-0 in games started by Peralta this season, as the young right-hander has now bested the likes of Clay Buchholz, Francisco Liriano and Cashner.
Peralta had his good stuff yet again Monday, posting his third straight quality start. The only reason his first start of the year wasn’t deemed quality was his defense prevented him from being able to reach the required six innings.
"He’s a guy that everybody knows what he has," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Peralta. "When we face somebody, they know. It’s so good that when he’s down in the zone, I don’t care if you are looking for it every pitch, you can’t hit a 96 sinker that’s moving all over the place. Then when he gets two strikes or if he wants to mix one in earlier, he has a slider that if he’s on the plate and down with it, you can’t see it."
Needing to go deep into the ballgame to save the oft-used bullpen as much as possible, Peralta allowed just one earned run through six innings before running into trouble in the top of the seventh. Peralta left a fastball up to Chris Denorfia that resulted in a solo home run into the picnic area in right field, cutting Milwaukee’s lead to 4-3.
Pinch hitter Nick Hundley followed with a double and Alexi Amarista reached safely on a Jean Segura throwing error. After a sacrifice bunt, Roenicke opted to pull Peralta in favor of the left-handed Will Smith.
As he has done all season long, Smith worked out of the jam by getting Seth Smith to pop out to shallow left and striking out Chase Headley.
"I was trying to be a little bit too fine and started missing with some pitches," Peralta said. "But we got a win. Will helped me out and stopped it right there.
"Any time you have a bullpen like that and you leave men on base, you don’t have to worry about much. They come out and do their job."
Peralta’s talent has never been questioned, but he needed to improve mentally on the mound in order to fully tap into his potential. Little things would often throw him off his game in years prior, but he’s seemed to have figured it out early on in 2014.
"I think he’s in a really good place mentally," Roenicke said. "Physically, it’s pretty nice. He’s doing some great things."
By allowing just one earned run in 6 1/3 innings Monday, Peralta lowered his ERA to 2.19 over 24 2/3 innings. He credits the focus he put on improving mentally in the offseason for what he’s been able to do thus far.
It hasn’t just been controlling his emotions either. There’s been an improved focus on each individual pitch and commanding the baseball.
"That’s the thing that I’ve been working on ever since I’ve been in the minor leagues," Peralta said. "I’ve just grown up as a professional and as a man too. I’m able to control the situation and not let it get away for a big inning. I’m going to just try and keep doing it."
Another save: Ask Francisco Rodriguez if he needs a day off, and he’ll tell his manager he’ll take one on the team’s next scheduled off day.
Despite having pitched three days in a row, Rodriguez took the ball in the ninth inning Monday and converted his fourth save in as many days.
"He wants to be out there every day," Roenicke said. "He played catch, felt great. He’s going to tell me the same thing tomorrow."
Rodriguez said the ball felt better coming out Monday — his fifth outing in the last six days — than it did in any of his three appearances in Pittsburgh this past weekend.
"I’m the kind of pitcher that the more that I throw, the better I feel," Rodriguez said. "All of my career, I’ve been used to a big workload. This is not something new for me. I just have to do my maintenance and do everything the right way."
By recording his major-league leading eighth save of the season, Rodriguez moved into sole possession of 19th place on the all-time saves list.
"I take a lot of pride in what I do," Rodriguez said. "When I cross that line, I’m going to compete. Once I go out there, I’m a different person. I’m going to try to attack the hitters and put them away as soon as possible."