MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Peralta to be key for Crew down the stretch

Right-hander a welcome surprise in Brewers' NL Central title race

Peralta to be key for Crew down the stretch

MILWAUKEE -- Wily Peralta is tied with Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright for the Major Leagues in victories with 14.

OK, for some people, the victory may be a hopelessly antiquated way of measuring pitching success. But one way or another, Peralta's emergence has been one very good reason that the Milwaukee Brewers have been in first place since April 5.

Wainwright, when asked what pitching statistic he valued most, replied that it would still be wins, unless the rules were changed and pennants were determined on the basis of WHIP. Nice.

Peralta was the winning pitcher Thursday afternoon in the rubber match of a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. The Brewers' 3-1 victory gave them the series and allowed them to remain in first place in the NL Central.

This was a genuinely big game and Peralta rose to the occasion. "He's talked about it, so I know it's on his mind," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "When we need a good start, he wants to give us that start. If he can continue to give us those good starts, we need him. We need a big, strong guy to have innings and keep those run totals down."

That would be Peralta now. This was one of those three-for-one events that contemporary baseball provides. This was a series with ramifications in the NL Central race and the NL West race. And, although neither one of these two teams would prefer to look at it this way, there could also be long-term gains and losses in the NL Wild Card race.

In the deciding game of the series, Peralta provided the winning difference for the Brewers. He had a difficult first inning in which the Giants loaded the bases, but he escaped the jam. After that, he was in charge.

His fastball reached as high as 98 mph, and, as usual his sink on the ball produced plenty of outs on the ground. Over 6 2/3 innings, he gave up just one run, walking one and striking out nine. He recorded 11 ground-ball outs, meaning that all of his outs were strikeouts or groundouts.

This was a truly impressive performance.

"I think he's learned how to pitch," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy regarding Peralta's emergence. "Whenever you learn how to pitch and use your strength against hitters' weaknesses, that's the results that you see. You're seeing now the results of that knowledge and that experience."

There aren't many pitchers who combine that sort of velocity with the highly effective sinking action. As Lucroy noted, one of the others would be Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress.

Staying power?

"I looked up at his 98th pitch and it was 98 mph," Roenicke said. The early difficulty drove up Peralta's pitch count, so he needed 115 pitches to go 6 2/3. But his 115th and last pitch was a 97-mph fastball that struck out Angel Pagan.

That pitch count was a career-high for Peralta, 25, who is only in his second full season in the Majors. "I still felt strong," he said. "It was a lot of pitches because I threw 30-something in the first inning. But it doesn't bother me. You just have to keep working, doing your routine and keep pitching."

Peralta welcomes the notion of pitching in big games, which is good, because he has helped put his team in a position in which big games are going to be played.

"I've been given the opportunity," Peralta said. "My other teammates are going to do it, too. I've been given the opportunity and I've been doing the job."

And sharing the Major Leagues in victories?

"It feels amazing, man," Peralta says with a small smile. "It feels amazing. There are some big names up there. That's a thing that I've been working hard in the offseason and working hard during the season to be there."

Without getting ahead of the process, it can be pointed out that the last Brewers pitcher to win 20 games was Teddy Higuera in 1986.

That is not the main contribution that Peralta is making, although 14-6 with a 3.42 ERA points in the right direction. He has become a highly reliable and sometimes even dominant performer on a pitching staff that has kept this team in first place.

"He's definitely going to be huge for us down the stretch," Lucroy says.

With the way Peralta has pitched, particularly in winning his last five starts, that seems like a completely reasonable expectation.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.