Peralta aims to rein in emotions
PHOENIX—There are no concerns with that right arm. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta brings a howitzer to the mound. This much is, again, confirmed.
Teammates, the manager, they all shake their head.
“Velocities,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said one Cactus League appearance in, “were ridiculous for this early.”
Physically, Peralta has star potential. Emotionally, he's trying to turn a corner. Milwaukee is banking on its talented 24-year-old being calm this season. The first half of last season, he wasn't. Emotions too often took over through his 11-15 debut as a major-league starter. One bad pitch led to another.
But he did finish strong. Heading into 2014, Peralta hopes to retain a state of Zen for a full season.
Relaxing on the stool at his locker, Peralta says his job is “80 percent” mental. He understands that now.
“We all have the physical. The physical is there,” Peralta said. “You can have the physical and if you're not clear mentally with what you want to do, and you go out on the mound, you're not going to have success as a pitcher.”
Catcher Martin Maldonado—more than anyone—knows when Peralta is too steamed.
The two friends rose together through Class AA Huntsville to Class AAA Nashville to Milwaukee. When Peralta's temper boils too high, he says Maldonado shoots him a look and fires the ball back into his mitt with a few extra rpm.
Maldonado is convinced the worst is behind Peralta. The Dominican native started 5-9 last season, shelled for 11 hits twice in a span of four starts. Frustration mounted as Peralta was unable to command his slider.
Yet, Maldonado believes it takes one start to “flip everything.” Maybe that start for Peralta came against Cincinnati on July 9. He tossed a complete game, shutting out the Reds with six strikeouts in a three-hitter.
And from then on, he says he was settled down. The made-for-TV outbursts subsided.
“I think that's something that everybody goes through,” Maldonado said. “It was kind of hard for him as a young guy. An older guy would maybe come back quicker than what he did last year, but I think going into this season, it's going to be an exciting season.
“We're here because we have the ability. The part of the game we have to control is the mental part of the game.”
Maldonado still jaws with Peralta “all the time.” He can critique Peralta, “get mad” at him through a rough patch and the pitcher will listen. Not shut him out.
Still, Roenicke's hope is that Peralta reaches a point where it won't matter who's catching, be it Maldonado or Jonathan Lucroy. So far, he's on track. Peralta's first start this spring was a success. Through three scoreless innings, Peralta walked one batter and struck out three.
In the clubhouse afterward, his soft voice barely crawled above the humming of the radiator. Location, location, location. Roenicke may be raving about his velocity. “Location” is on Peralta's mind.
When his emotions ran too high in 2013, he'd get overaggressive and lose his location.
“I'm trying to control myself,” Peralta said. “I'm always going to be emotional. I can get (ticked) off and then calm down and make the pitch that I have to make. Before, I'd lose my concentration and get mad. And then I start missing everything.
“The thing that helped me a lot last year in the second half is be mad—I can always be mad sometimes when I miss pitches—but just forget about it. Take a couple seconds. Walk around the mound and then get the next pitch.”
In this visitor's clubhouse, Peralta kicks pretend dirt. He points to his head whenever he says “concentration.”
“Every pitcher gets mad on the mound,” Peralta said. “But that's the difference. When you stop it right away, you can make the pitches you have to make….Deep breath then 'OK, time to make this pitch.'“
Peralta's raw tools are the envy of other pitchers in the clubhouse.
“A guy throwing a 98 mph sinker is nuts,” reliever Rob Wooten said. “That's not really fair for a hitter. You could see him grow last year. First half to the second half was night and day.
“When you go out there, it's all going to work out. The lights are bright. There are a lot of people watching. It's easy to lose control. He's been there now, done that, so I don't see that happening anymore.”
The bright lights aren't on yet. These games in Phoenix are low stress. You can hear a lone heckler yell at Ryan Braun from any seat at any stadium. Roenicke himself has downplayed results in this setting. Time will tell.
Roenicke was happy to hear that Peralta is making a conscious effort to start fast. He didn't last season. Soft-spoken, always smiling and laughing in the clubhouse, Peralta hopes to find a mean streak in 2014. He wants to “attack” batters.
First, he'll need to keep his cool.
“Going back to confidence,” Maldonado said. “If he doesn't have that confidence, he won't be able to do that.”