Brewers’ Peralta confident, anticipating big 2015 campaign

Mixing in more changeups, Milwaukee's Wily Peralta has looked solid in Cactus League action this month. In three starts, the 25-year-old has notched two wins, a 2.16 ERA, seven strikeouts and only two walks in 8 1/3 innings.

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PHOENIX — Wily Peralta was arguably the ace of the Milwaukee Brewers’ pitching staff in 2014, leading the team with 17 wins, 198 2/3 innings pitched and 154 strikeouts.

Peralta’s 3.53 ERA in 2014 represented an improvement of nearly one run over 2013 and was the second best among Brewers starters.

"Confidence was really important for me last year," said the 6-foot-1 right-hander. "Having the confidence that I could command my pitches to the locations I needed was really important, especially my slider. Confidence, for me, comes from learning. It’s pitching and learning hitters."

Control, bred of confidence, was critical to Peralta’s success in 2014. Issuing just 61 walks, the Dominican Republic native lowered his walks per nine innings from 3.6 in 2013 to 2.8 in 2014. Peralta’s strikeout-to-walk ratio jumped from 1.77:1 to 2.52:1, while his WHIP dropped from 1.418 to 1.304.

The 25-year-old Peralta’s increased confidence was noticed by teammates.

"Wily’s a much more confident pitcher than when he came up in 2012," said catcher Martin Maldonado, a minor-league teammate of Peralta’s. "That’s made him more comfortable.

"You see it in the clubhouse, in meetings, in bullpens and on the mound."

Second baseman Scooter Gennett, another young Brewer growing into his role, also recognizes Peralta’s growing self-assurance.

"He’s always been very consistent in his demeanor on the mound. But you could see Wily’s confidence grow last year as he had success against good hitters. His stuff — the fastball and slider — is the same great stuff, but having the confidence to make those pitches to locations in certain counts, that’s where it makes a difference," said Gennett.

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"As an infielder, I see a confident pitcher has better control of the game," Gennett added. "When it comes to situations and controlling runners on base, you really see that. It’s like things slow down. I see that with Wily now and that’s an edge."

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knows what the team has in Peralta and sees upside beyond what the hurler delivered in 2014.

"He’s a really good pitcher," Roenicke said recently, of his No. 3 starter. "He’s got a plus curveball and a plus slider and works low in the zone. He showed command of both pitches last year, and he’s young."

A groundball pitcher with strikeout ability, improving his changeup could be the key to Peralta taking the next step. According to FanGraphs.com, only five percent of Peralta’s pitches were changeups last year, but hitters jumped on those pitches, hitting them at a .349 clip.

"I want to work on my changeup this year; I think it can be a good pitch for me, especially with my fastball and slider," said Peralta. "I’ve always had a changeup, and threw it quite a bit in the minor leagues. I’ve gotten away from it the last few years. But it’s there and I’m working on it. It’s confidence. It takes feel. The more I can throw it, the more confident I can be with it."

Mixing in more changeups, Peralta has looked solid in Cactus League action. In three starts, he’s notched two wins, a 2.16 ERA, seven strikeouts and only two walks in 8 1/3 innings.

"He’s been working on that changeup," said Roenicke. "He’s throwing it more and making some good pitches. But, when it’s not working, he’s quick to get away from it."

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Looking forward to the start of the 2015 regular season, Peralta likes what he sees.

"I feel good and I’m ready," said Peralta, while surveying Milwaukee’s clubhouse. "We’ve had some good pitching and we’re hitting.

"I like our team. (Ryan Braun) is healthy. Everybody’s healthy. Luc is Luc, Gomez is only getting better. Jean Segura is going to bounce back. Lind is big. Parra, I like.

"If we do our jobs," Peralta concluded, "we should have a good year."

If Peralta’s faith in the Brewers proves as prescient as his growing confidence in his own abilities, 2015 could be a special season for both pitcher and Milwaukee.