Like a true competitor, Wily Peralta wanted more on Sunday. Upon leaving the hill with seven scoreless innings and 100 pitches under his belt, the Tigers’ righty expertly ducked manager A.J. Hinch by entering the dugout from the opposite end, thus avoiding the “good game” handshake that would signal the end of his day.
His sneak didn’t work, as Hinch eventually caught him for congratulations and Derek Holland entered to pitch the eighth. But with a tear like Peralta has been on, no one would blame Hinch for being tempted to run him out again.
“Getting him to 100 pitches was really key,” Hinch said. “I joked before the game with everybody that he was going to be out there until his arm fell off today because we were pretty thin.
“Wily just kept putting up zeros, and there’s not a pitcher on this staff that doesn’t try to duck me when they’re coming out of the game.”
Given the recent injuries to their bullpen and back-to-back six-inning contributions from their relief corps entering Sunday, the Tigers really needed what Peralta brought to the bump during Detroit’s 2-0 win in the series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
In crafting his sparkling outing, Peralta increased his dominant streak to eight consecutive starts of three or fewer earned runs allowed, a stretch that dates back to July 28. He hasn’t allowed a run since a two-out sacrifice fly against the Pirates on Sept. 7, a stretch spanning 16 1/3 frames.
“He’s fun to catch, man,” said batterymate Dustin Garneau. “His fastball is either up and in, down and away, sink and slide; I get splits off of it. ... He’s just a true professional.”
The admiration was mutual.
“[Garneau] called the game really well,” Peralta said. “I just tried to follow him and not think about what pitch I want to throw. Just whatever he’s trying to put down, in my mind, I was just trying to execute it.”
Peralta allowed just three hits on Sunday -- none of them in the same inning -- and was efficient with his stuff, drawing 12 swings and misses while permitting only soft contact for the most part: Rays batters had an average exit velocity of just 79.9 mph against Peralta, well below Statcast’s hard-hit threshold of 95 mph.
With runs at a premium -- after a scoreless stalemate through three innings, the Tigers held onto a slim lead after Eric Haase’s solo home run in the fourth and Garneau’s solo shot in the seventh -- Peralta came up clutch each time he needed to.
“I thought he worked around a couple of his own walks and a little bit of being erratic around the strike zone, but he continued to get outs,” Hinch said. “He’s been locked in to get through some innings quickly and then navigate some traffic. He was pretty good. His stuff was really good today, and that helped.”
With the way he worked Sunday, there weren’t many jams to wriggle from. A walk and a hit-by-pitch to open the second put two on for Peralta, who calmly responded by coaxing Joey Wendle to fly out to center, holding the runners in place. He then got Yandy Díaz to ground into an inning-double play to end the threat.
The Rays threatened again in the fifth, with runners at the corners and two outs. In this case, Peralta’s first-pitch splitter to Brandon Lowe came off the latter’s bat at just 41.9 mph, allowing third baseman Jeimer Candelario to scoop it up easily and fire to first to end the inning.
“I think I’m getting in a really good rhythm right now,” Peralta said. “My pitches are feeling really strong. I feel like my body is getting used to being in the rotation again.”
Peralta has emerged as somewhat of a rotation ace since his June 15 promotion from Triple-A Toledo. Signed by the Tigers to a one-year Minor League deal on Feb. 19, the plan for the nine-year MLB veteran was originally to provide experience for Detroit’s young bullpen if he cracked the roster. Injuries and various struggles necessitated Peralta’s shift to a starting role.
He has a 2.41 ERA since that July 28 matchup against the Twins, during which he allowed six runs over 3 1/3 frames.
“One of the things I’m most impressed with is that when things wobbled a little bit in the middle of the season for [Peralta], he was able to recover and get himself back on track and continue to pitch,” Hinch said. “We didn’t even know how we were going to use him when we called him up, and so he’s earned this opportunity, and he should earn the praise.
“He’s done a really good job of stabilizing our rotation when we’ve needed it the most.”