PHOENIX -- Freddy Peralta reported to Brewers camp with a new pitch and a renewed sense of confidence following a trying 2019 season.
Peralta spent the winter in the Dominican Republic, resurrecting the slider he’d strayed from in recent seasons, including the past two years in the big leagues when he pitched predominantly with four-seam fastballs, curveballs and the occasional changeup. He added a slider to that mix at the urging of the Brewers, beginning with meetings at the team’s Dominican training complex with former pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who is now a special assistant to the GM for player development.
The 23-year-old Peralta was surprised how quickly he felt comfortable with the pitch.
“I knew that I could make the slider great, but not that fast,” Peralta said. “I took two or three weeks during [Dominican Winter League] games, and when I saw those moments, down in the count or in 3-2 [counts] a lot of the time, 0-2 when you’re behind in the count, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I can feel it like I feel the fastball. I can throw it whenever I want.”
What began as a conversation with Villanueva graduated to bullpen sessions and live batting practice before Peralta pitched for the Toros del Este. In 20 innings covering the regular season and playoffs, he limited opponents to six hits and three walks with 34 strikeouts and a 1.35 ERA.
Peralta’s role with the 2020 Brewers remains to be determined. If he doesn’t win the fifth starter spot, he would be a strong candidate for the bullpen. Peralta opened last season in the rotation but quickly lost his hold on the job, finishing with a 5.29 ERA in 85 big league innings.
“I want something better, a better year,” Peralta said. “I gave 100 percent, I know that. But this year is the year. Last year is in the books. This year is important to me. Here we go.”
More progress for Knebel
Corey Knebel, the only Brewers pitcher under physical restrictions at the moment because he is coming off Tommy John surgery, threw off the mound Thursday for the fourth time since the procedure. It was to be a session of about 20 pitches at about 80 percent, following a roadmap laid out last year by left-hander Brent Suter, who returned to great success after a 13-month rehab.
Without a setback, Knebel could be back pitching in exhibition games soon after the Brewers depart Arizona for the regular season, and then he could return to the Brewers' bullpen by the first week or so of May.
“Even though I feel good, there’s no reason to go heavy right now,” Knebel said. “The way we saw it with Tommy John is a lot of guys had setbacks. Suter was one of the rare ones with no setbacks. He followed the program and did exactly what he was supposed to do. I would like to have no setbacks, too.”
Arcia says the right things about shortstop
After serving as Milwaukee’s primary shortstop for most of the last three and a half years, Orlando Arcia will eventually find himself competing for the job with newcomer Luis Urías, another promising prospect acquired in a November trade with the Padres. Urías first must recover from surgery for a broken left hamate, but when he’s ready, Arcia indicated he would welcome the challenge.
“My main thing is to make sure he's welcome here, to make him feel at home and support him as much as he can,” Arcia said through translator Carlos Brizuela. “That way he doesn't feel like an outsider. He comes from another team, but my goal is to make him feel at home. He can help us win and it's important to make him feel like one of us.”
Arcia conceded that he faces a pivotal season after another disappointing season at the plate in 2019 was made frustrating by diminished defensive performance. The Brewers are confident they can correct the latter, and manager Craig Counsell said the club would have Arcia focus on lateral movement this spring.
“It definitely will be a big year for me,” Arcia said. “That's why I came to camp early this year, to start working on the little things I'm missing from early on. I just need to work hard and try to show myself on the field. Everything will be in God's hands, but if I do everything right, things should take care of [themselves].”
He added: “Everything in this game is a competition. I've been trying to do the same thing for the last couple of years. Whether it’s against someone else or yourself, you're always trying to find a way to compete, to get better and to try and find a way to help the team win. This is just part of it. You have to just keep doing your work and keep trying to improve yourself.”
Counsell wasn’t surprised by any of the new rules announced this week by Major League Baseball, with one exception: Managers will now have only 20 seconds to decide whether to challenge a call on the field. That’s down from 30 seconds in recent years.
"Here's how you're going to do it: You're going to have to make a quicker decision,” Counsell said. “That's just how it is going to be. So you're going to be wrong more. The guys giving us [guidance from the video room], they are going to be wrong more.”