DETROIT -- Freddy Peralta pitched like Freddy Peralta again, until Mother Nature got in the way. That’s a big deal for a Brewers team inching toward the postseason.
While Milwaukee didn’t make progress in the standings on Tuesday, it wasn’t a total washout for Peralta, who logged six scoreless innings before severe storms interrupted play at Comerica Park for an hour and 49 minutes and knocked the right-hander out of what became a 1-0 loss to the Tigers in 11 innings.
The Brewers’ (89-56) magic number to clinch the National League Central remained frozen at five after the Cardinals (75-69) beat the Mets in extra innings to leap past the Reds (75-70) and into second place in the division. Their magic number to clinch a postseason berth altogether, however, is at four.
Still, it was a productive night -- at least on the pitching front -- since the Brewers appear to have the third member of their trio of aces rounding into form. Peralta allowed two singles and no runs on 71 pitches over six sharp innings, with no walks and nine strikeouts before the rain came.
“It’s a really good sign for me because I’ve been working hard to feel comfortable with the breaking stuff and the fastball,” Peralta said. “Today, I felt very good because I made all the adjustments I need to do for the rest of the season. I feel better.”
Peralta was right in the thick of the NL Cy Young Award race in mid-August, but he has looked a little wobbly since then. There was a two-inning, five-hit, three-run outing at St. Louis on Aug. 18 when he reported right shoulder discomfort, left the game and subsequently landed on the 10-day injured list with inflammation. Peralta returned Sept. 3 against the Cardinals and was charged with four earned runs on three hits while throwing 53 pitches in two innings. Five days later, he surrendered three runs (one earned) on four hits against the Phillies and threw 81 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, a count inflated in part by some shaky defense.
But on Tuesday, Peralta was able to extend deep into a game.
“He’s part of the rotation, obviously, and I think just the consistency of being out there on his day, we were going to get a result like this,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “But [it’s] peace of mind for Freddy a little bit, to go out and pitch well. He was great tonight. Filled up the strike zone, got some early swings, and he threw six innings with a really low pitch count. So it was an excellent start for him.”
Three starts removed from the IL, the shackles are off, Counsell said.
“It’s a normal start. Freddy’s one of the five or six guys starting games. There’s no restrictions,” he said. “We’re not thinking about him any differently right now. Just normal starts.”
The storm offered Counsell a “clear-cut” point to turn to his bullpen. Brad Boxberger, Devin Williams, Josh Hader and Jake Cousins each delivered a scoreless inning, with Williams striking out the side with nasty stuff in the eighth, Hader working around three consecutive one-out walks in a harrowing ninth, and Cousins stranding the automatic runner in the 10th with a sensational assist from Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong on a tricky two-out bouncer.
For as well as Milwaukee’s pitchers performed, the hitters did not.
The Brewers were blanked by Wily Peralta and four Detroit relievers, who combined to scatter four hits in 11 scoreless innings. Christian Yelich bounced into a double play with the bases loaded to end the top of the 11th before Hunter Strickland surrendered Derek Hill’s walk-off double to lead off the bottom of the frame, snapping the club’s five-game winning streak.
“We just weren’t that good offensively tonight, frankly,” Counsell said.
The Brewers’ surge to the top of the division makes it easier to brush off nights like Tuesday. After Wednesday’s afternoon series finale in Detroit, the Brewers will return home to host the Cubs, Cardinals and Mets on the final homestand of the regular season.
It’s an opportunity to clinch a postseason berth at home for the first time since 2011.
“You see the scores of other teams, but like I said the other day, it's in our hands and we've earned that position, so we keep taking care of our business,” Counsell said on Tuesday afternoon. “We don't necessarily have to worry about other teams, so we just keep doing what we're supposed to do.”
As for the possibility of celebrating with fans at American Family Field, Counsell said, “I think everything is always better at home.”