Heaters, shutdown relievers and cheeseheads, oh my

What went right in the Brewers' opening homestand

April 9th, 2023

MILWAUKEE -- Freddy Peralta threw heat, Christian Yelich wore the cheesehead and the Brewers finished an opening homestand that exceeded all expectations.

Peralta featured the best fastball velocity of any of his 69 career starts and Yelich and Willy Adames backed him with home runs in the Brewers’ 6-1 win over the Cardinals under an open dome Sunday at American Family Field. The Brewers are 7-2 this season after winning five of six games on a tough opening homestand against the Mets and Cardinals, which followed a series victory over the improved Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“We’re just together, you know?” Yelich told Bally Sports Wisconsin’s Sophia Minnaert after the duo was doused in Gatorade. “We’re having a lot of fun with each other.”

Here’s more on that, plus some other takeaways from a stellar start to the home slate:

1. Peralta is feeling good, very good
While holding the Cardinals to one run on four hits and three walks over six innings and 102 pitches, Peralta lit up the radar gun. His 95.4 mph average four-seam fastball and 97.8 mph max -- a ball to Cardinals rookie Jordan Walker in the fourth inning -- were both career highs for any of Peralta’s Major League starts.

Coming off a 2022 season marred by a shoulder injury, those are good signs.

“I’m feeling really good about the routine that I’m doing,” Peralta said. “I have a training staff that is doing a great job with me. For me, health is No. 1.”

As Wade Miley completes two turns through the rotation on Monday night in Arizona, Peralta leads the Brewers with 14 strikeouts, 12 innings pitched and a 0.75 ERA. Brandon Woodruff is right behind him with 12 strikeouts and a 0.79 ERA. Both pitchers dealt with injury issues last year.

For Peralta, “It’s really more of the same of what we’ve seen since the first pitch he threw this spring,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s been dialed in. He’s been great. It’s been clearly different from how he had to endure most of the second half of last year. In a way, I’m not surprised, because when he’s doing well, this is what he looks like."

2. Don’t worry about the bullpen, at least not yet
Peter Strzelecki spun a slider past Nolan Arenado to strand a pair of Cardinals runners in the seventh inning, and catcher William Contreras punched his glove. The Brewers’ bullpen, thought to be a potential weak spot going into the season, has arguably been their greatest strength, allowing runs in only one of Milwaukee’s first nine games.

Including Strzelecki’s five scoreless appearances (he has a 14-outing scoreless streak going back to last season), Brewers relievers hit the road riding a 23 1/3-inning scoreless streak going back to the series finale at Wrigley Field. They have MLB’s best bullpen ERA at 0.84 despite one of the league’s lowest strikeout rates (17.8 percent), according to FanGraphs.

Matt Bush was shaky in the eighth but wiggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam with help from Hoby Milner. Devin Williams cruised through the ninth.

“They’re doing a heck of a job,” Counsell said. “They’re sharing the load. They’re pitching at different times when they have to. That’s spelled a great start for them.”

3. The offense might be alright
The Brewers’ lineup was better last season than you think -- 10th in MLB in runs per game -- but they are hoping to be less home run-reliant in 2023, as the new rules reward speed and athleticism. Home runs still work, however.

Yelich and Adames contributed three hits apiece, with a solo home run and three RBIs for Adames and Yelich’s first home run of the season to spark a three-run seventh and put the game away. Adames, backup catcher Victor Caratini and equipment manager Jason Shawger procured a foam cheesehead that’s become a home run crown, and Yelich happily wore it on Sunday.

“It's my first time ever wearing a cheesehead,” Yelich said. “Hopefully there's more of those to come.”

It’s one of a number of ways the Brewers are bonding as a team.

“It's just more of a conscious effort,” Yelich said. “I think the more you've been on winning teams, the more you realize how important that is. And when that gets away, it makes it tough when you're not together as a group. We've made a really big effort since day one of Spring Training to do more of that, to come together as a team and build that chemistry and just get to know each other, honestly.

“It's been a lot of fun to be part of. It's a great group and a lot of good guys and hopefully we keep it rolling. It's still early, and you just want to keep your head down and try and play as well as you can.”