Freddy Peralta is ready for his new role as top man of the Milwaukee Brewers: ‘He longs for those spotlights’

By | March 19, 2024

PHOENIX — If there’s one way the Brewers have been successful in recent years, it’s their ability to develop homegrown starting pitching. In recent seasons, Milwaukee developed a three-headed monster at the top of its rotation with 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, two-time All-Star Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta.

But with Burnes traded to the Orioles last month and Woodruff out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair the anterior capsule in his right shoulder, Peralta has become the Brewers’ ace and Opening Day starter.

“I feel grateful,” Peralta told Yahoo Sports of being the team’s No. 1 arm. “It’s a long process that we have to go through and understand. I probably didn’t know [how] all this time. But it is a process. Learn from the experienced guys. I’m just grateful for everything and what’s to come.”

The keys to the top spot in the Brewers’ rotation weren’t handed to Peralta by default this year. Over the past six seasons, the Brewers have seen how he handled different situations and opportunities. When he was first called up in 2018, he spent half the season in the team’s rotation. In ’19, he moved to a swingman role out of the bullpen and did so again during the shortened season in ’20.

In 2021, Peralta finally got the chance to work full-time in the rotation, and he did well. He took a significant step forward and became one of the best pitchers in baseball, going 10-5 with a sparkling 2.81 ERA and earning his first NL All-Star appearance. In the two seasons since then, he has become a model of consistency. Last season, he reached the 200 strikeout plateau for the first time in his career and made a career-high 30 starts.

Fast forward to Opening Day 2024, and Peralta has come a long way since being acquired by the Brewers at age 19 as part of a 2015 trade that sent first baseman Adam Lind to the Mariners. During that time, Peralta’s growth as a player and person can be seen throughout the organization.

“Just being around Freddy for so many years, he’s just an incredible man and passionate,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “And to see him grow, I literally mean grow physically and grow mentally. He cares about others. He’s just a loving kid. It is beautiful.”

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The Brewers’ rotation has been as strong as any in baseball in recent seasons. In Peralta’s breakout year in 2021, Burnes won the NL Cy Young Award with a 2.43 ERA, and Woodruff finished fifth in the Cy Young voting with a 2.56 ERA.

Peralta took many of his cues by watching Burnes and Woodruff and trying to emulate the things they did. Both started as swingmen in the bullpen before moving into the rotation full-time and then starting to dominate the league. Having gone on similar journeys, they were ideal mentors for Peralta.

“I think a lot of us have experienced that,” Burnes said. “It’s just one of those things that at the end of the day you have to do what’s best for the team. It’s not always what you want to do. But whatever you can do to help the team win… keep your head down and keep going after it.”

“I see it as a greenhouse effect,” Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook said of the dynamic among the trio. “It helped [Freddy] grow better. There was a friendly competition between the three, which was very cool and made everyone happy. But he thrives on big moments. He wants them.”

The Brewers are in uncharted territory this season with their rotation – and the rest of their roster, for that matter. If Milwaukee is out early this year, shortstop Willy Adames or even new first baseman Rhys Hoskins could be on another roster in September. On the other hand, if the Brewers are good, chances are it’s partly because Peralta is having his best season yet.

In his role as the ace, new challenges lie ahead for the 27-year-old right-hander, who is looking to reach career highs in both starts and innings this year. Additionally, Peralta understands what he is being asked to do for the team entering this season. When a pitcher becomes “the man” in a rotation, he also becomes the stopper leaned on to prevent or end a losing skid, in addition to being expected to dominate every fifth day.

That’s the mentality that comes with being a team leader, and Peralta embraces it. And now, after years of showing the Brewers he had it, he’s getting a chance to show the rest of baseball.

“I want everyone to look at me when I’m on the mound like I’m doing what I need to do,” Peralta said. “… Just knowing that there is a pitcher that competes and fights to be the best and puts the team in a position to win games.”

“This opportunity to use this staff and be the leader of the staff is something he has grown to do. But he is also ready,” Hook said. ‘He longs for those spotlights. It’s like, ‘I want that.’ He always said that to me, and I think all those guys wanted it. But he was more outspoken than most.

“So this opportunity is going to be really cool for him, and if he does that and is the guy for 30 starts, that’s going to be really cool.”

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