Wily Peralta got a bit of Felix Hernandez’s medicine while squaring off against four-time All-Star right-hander Sunday afternoon.
Hernandez has been a tough-luck loser often in his career, as his Seattle Mariners have struggled to support him with runs. In Sunday’s series finale, Hernandez was dominant over eight scoreless innings.
Peralta was very good himself and went eight innings for his second career complete game, but he made two mistakes costing him in a 2-0 loss to the Mariners.
“I thought he threw the ball great,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “He was a pitcher today. He mixed in his sliders a lot, his changeups. That was really a great game for him.”
Milwaukee’s rookie right-hander allowed just four hits, didn’t walk a batter, struck out four and needed just 98 pitches to get through eight innings. Seattle got its first run of the day in the third inning thanks to a wild pitch.
Mariners center fielder Dustin Ackley led off the frame with an opposite field double to left and moved up to third on Brendan Ryan’s ground out. With the light hitting Henry Blanco at the plate, Peralta bounced a pitch that got away from Martin Maldonado. After a quick recovery, Maldonado flipped the ball to Peralta and made the play at the plate close, but Ackley just beat the tag.
Peralta’s only other mistake came in the fifth inning when he left a fastball up to Justin Smoak. Seattle’s first baseman hit it out to right field to put the Mariners up 2-0.
With the way Hernandez was rolling, the Brewers seemed to be in a much bigger hole than just two runs. The American League ERA leader was sharp from the start, but Milwaukee did have a chance to score in the second inning.
Following a one-out walk to Caleb Gindl, Juan Francisco doubled to right to give the Brewers runners at second and third. With an opportunity to jump out to an early lead, Jeff Bianchi struck out and Scooter Gennett popped out to end the inning.
Though he ended up getting the loss, Peralta went toe-to-toe with one of baseball’s best pitchers. His ERA is now 2.97 over his last 14 starts, and he’s getting better with each outing.
“I think earlier (in the season) he had a couple of games before that where he was good, but that was because his fastball was just overpowering down in the zone with good movement,” Roenicke said. “He’s turning into a pitcher. You look at Hernandez and what he did, here’s a guy that used to throw 95 to 98 (mph). He used to blow it by everybody. Now he’s just as good of a pitcher but doesn’t have to throw that hard anymore. He’s learned how to pitch, he maneuvers the ball around and it never seems to be straight.”
The majority of the best pitchers in baseball go through struggles early on in their careers. It’s not often a guy comes up and dominates right away like Matt Harvey or Stephen Strasburg, as pitchers usually need a full season or 200 innings to figure things out.
Hernandez had a 4.52 ERA in his first full season in the big leagues, while National League ERA leader Clayton Kershaw had a 4.26 ERA in his. While nobody is comparing Peralta to the two top pitchers in the game just yet, his ERA is down to 4.30 in his first full season and is trending toward the top of the rotation starter the Brewers think he can be.
“It’s confidence,” Roenicke said. “We saw a little of this from him last year. He’s a young guy. He doesn’t have a ton of starts in his professional career, and I think it takes a lot of starts and innings to figure out things. He’s starting to get it along with the confidence, understanding how you can change speeds and get hitters out.
“When you get in a tight spot, it’s not always throwing as hard as you can. He’s starting to figure those things out. Hopefully he continues to grow that way and gets smarter in what he does and commands the ball better.”