Peralta sets career whiff mark where MLB journey began 

May 3rd, 2023

DENVER -- Christian Yelich recalls roaming center field on Mother’s Day 2018 because Lorenzo Cain was off. Yelich can run with the best of them, but commanding the vast expanse of center at Coors Field is something different, especially with an unknown rookie on the mound.

“Then Freddy struck out 13,” Yelich said, “and it’s like, that’s cool, perfect.”

Perfect was the right word for Freddy Peralta’s Major League debut five years ago, and one couldn’t help but think of it on Tuesday, when Peralta started a game in Denver for the first time since that memorable introduction. This time he set a career high for swings and misses and became the first Brewers pitcher to log double-digit strikeouts in the Brewers’ 3-2 loss to the Rockies. 

Peralta wanted a different result, but he managed to enjoy the moment. 

“When I went out there, warming up before the game, I was thinking about that day, my debut,” he said. “Great memories for me. It’s a great experience to pitch here and feel awesome, too.” 

Just like his debut, Peralta had his swing-and-miss stuff. He set his career high in whiffs just six days after he set a then-career-high 22 whiffs in a win over the Tigers. Peralta tied for the second-most whiffs for any pitcher at Coors Field in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008), two shy of the mark set by then-Mets righty Jacob deGrom in 2021.

Peralta had 19 swings and misses in his debut, when he was 21 years old -- “looked like he was 15,” Yelich said -- and was supposed to be in Colorado Springs. In fact, Peralta’s entire extended family had traveled from the Dominican Republic to the high-altitude home of the Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate to see Freddy pitch professionally for the first time. 

Then there was a change of plans. Brewers starter Chase Anderson was sick, so Peralta’s start was pushed a day later and 70 miles north to Denver, where he threw four-seam fastballs for 90 of his 98 pitches, didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning and set a Brewers rookie record with 13 strikeouts in a 7-3 win.

Chris Hook, then the Brewers’ roving pitching coordinator, was watching in the Dominican Republic. His workday was over, so he found a quiet table at his hotel to watch the game. 

“I remember so clearly sitting there thinking, ‘This is unbelievable,’” said Hook, who’s now Milwaukee’s pitching coach.

“With Colorado Springs just down the road we had options,” said longtime Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan. “In the final analysis, we said, ‘Hey, let’s bring Freddy.’ And man, what a day. I wasn’t here for it, but I remember watching it and have an incredible memory of that day.” 

“I think we all remember Freddy throwing fastballs and them swinging and missing,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “I think everybody in the stadium, probably both dugouts, were like, ‘What’s going on here?’” 

Peralta was MLB Pipeline’s No. 9 Brewers prospect at the time. His success that day gave way to other pitchers in the organization. Peralta was near the front end of a wave of pitching prospects who have turned the Brewers into perennial contenders.

“No. 1, they’re pulling for him,” said Flanagan. “No. 2, it shows them, hey, you’re not that far away.” 

Peralta is a different pitcher today. He traded the unusual cut on his four-seam fastball for much more velocity, then added to his arsenal over the years. “Fastball Freddy” is now “Four-Pitch Freddy,” including a slider he debuted in 2020 and has become one of his most important weapons.

Peralta pitched mostly with the fastball and slider Tuesday, and it was a 2-2 tie when he struck out Rockies center fielder Brenton Doyle to finish an outing marred by two solo home runs: Ezequiel Tovar in the third inning, and Elias Díaz in the fourth.

The Rockies scored against reliable reliever Peter Strzelecki in the eighth inning to win the way the Brewers have won so many of their games this season: with defense. Colorado second baseman Harold Castro robbed Willy Adames at a critical moment in the sixth inning, when the Brewers tied the game but were denied the lead.

And Tovar, who was the Rockies’ top prospect until he graduated this week, made a leaping catch at shortstop to take away a hit from Rowdy Tellez in the ninth. The game ended with the Brewers’ tying run at third base.

“We got a little bit of our own medicine today,” Adames said.

Still, it was a chance for Peralta to reflect on how much has changed over the last five years since that magical Mother’s Day. 

“I remember in my first two years, I was in the game pitching and all that, but I had no idea about the process,” he said. “How it is going to be, how to handle the bad moments and all that kind of stuff. Now I don’t know everything, but I know more.”