Free of nerves, Peralta seeks chance with Crew
Right-handed prospect not dwelling on tough camp last year
PHOENIX -- Milwaukee's Wily Peralta never imagined the sweet sounds of Spring Training could be so cruel.
Late last March, the pitching prospect took the mound in the bottom of the first inning against the Rockies at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale with a chance to win a big league job and was hit so hard that he still hears about it today.
Peralta's first pitch to Colorado's Seth Smith was smashed into center field for a single. Two pitches later, Carlos Gonzalez drove Smith home with double.
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki joined the hit parade, lining the next to pitch to center to score Gonzalez.
Four consecutive balls to the next hitter, Todd Helton, followed by back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Ty Wigginton and Ryan Spilborghs on consecutive pitches marked the beginning of the end for Peralta.
Peralta threw four straight balls to the next hitter, Chris Iannetta, and just like that, his afternoon was over. But perhaps the biggest blow to the right-hander came after he stepped off the mound and was tagged again, this time with a description that he is still trying to shake today: nervous on the mound.
"I don't consider myself the nervous type or anxious person," said Peralta, 22, who is ranked as the Brewers' top prospect by MLB.com. "I'm pretty calm and I just try to go out there and try to do my job, but things did not turn out the way I wanted that day. I had a bad Spring Training, but I can't worry about that. I believe in myself. I know I can do better."
The soft-spoken Peralta, scheduled to start against the Giants tonight (the game will be aired by MLB Network) is letting his statistics speak for him. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, the right-hander had a breakout season last year, going 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He went 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in five starts for Nashville, and although he appears headed back to Triple-A to start the 2012 campaign, he remains on the big league club's radar this spring.
"He's a power pitcher and he's working on his command," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "When he's got his command going, he can dominate a game. He was nervous last year in our camp because he was thinking he could be that fifth guy when Zack [Greinke] went down. He didn't perform that well but had a really nice year for us. He's a guy that people think very highly of."
Peralta cringed when he was asked if he was nervous on the mound last spring. Instead, he chooses to describe himself as "inexperienced" or "unfamiliar" with his surroundings in his first big league camp last year. Did he put pressure on himself to perform well? Yes. Was he nervous? No.
Peralta would much rather be remembered for having one forgettable day on the mound than to be known for being nervous. But the truth of the matter is, nobody would blame Peralta if he admitted some anxiousness. After all, he's young and it's only natural to feel out of place, at least initially.
The closest Peralta came to admitting to the uneasiness on the mound in Scottsdale last year was a sheepish grin and a shrug. Perhaps he doesn't want to talk about the feelings he had last Spring Training because he feels so good this time around.
"I didn't have the best control and my pitches were not working at the beginning of the year," he said. "I had little mechanic fixes that I made in the Minors. I didn't have the rhythm I wanted at first, but I found it and things are better. It wasn't my best, but I wouldn't blame nerves. Look at what I was able to do in the season. Look what I am doing now."
What Peralta is doing now is impressive. He's wowed the Brewers this spring with his two-seam fastball and his poise on the mound. He walks around the clubhouse like he belongs instead of walking around trying to belong like he did last year.
Peralta said the large number of Latin players on the roster has helped him come out of his shell, and playing in the Dominican Winter League with Major League players like Edwin Encarnacion and former big leaguers Julio Lugo and Wily Mo Pena also proved invaluable because of the lessons they shared with him. He's built a strong relationship with teammate Carlos Gomez, and that helps, too.
"I just want the chance to show what I can do," Peralta said. "That's the same goal for everybody that plays baseball. All I can do is the best I can do each time I am on the mound and show that I am ready and prepared for what's ahead of me. You can say I felt ready last year, but I'm a lot more this year."
But make no mistake, Peralta still needs work. Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz wants to see better command of all of his pitches, specifically more consistency with his curveball, slider and changeup.
He's also keeping an eye on Peralta's comfort level on the mound and in the clubhouse.
"That's what it's all about for young kids," Kranitz said. "You just have to be comfortable and be one of the guys. When you do that, we can really see what you can do. When you put a lot of pressure on yourself like he did last year and being that young, it's tough."
Tough. Now, that's a word Peralta likes to hear. Tough guys don't get nervous, and if they do, they don't admit it.
Perhaps someday, somebody will tell Peralta that being nervous isn't the same thing as being soft. He'll learn that there are very few big league pitchers that take the hill without a few butterflies in their bellies, and sometimes even the best pitchers do not make it out of the first inning.
"Every individual is a little bit different, but the more times they can experience getting out there in that atmosphere, the better," Roenicke said. "At other times, it's important for the staff to make sure his thinking is right and make sure his confidence is there and to let him know when are behind him."
Peralta surely likes the sound of that.