Royals reliever Wily Peralta came into maybe the most crucial situation in Sunday’s win against the Twins and shut down the most dangerous lineup in the majors.
Yes, that’s the same Peralta that at times caused a collective groan from the Royals faithful when he emerged from the bullpen door earlier this season. Right now, he’s the hottest reliever on the roster.
It’s as simple as getting ahead in the count, and it’s also way more complex.
Wait, what? Simple and complex? Ah, the joys of baseball.
Peralta entered Monday night’s series opener against the Seattle Mariners at T-Mobile Park having held opponents to a .184 batting average in his previous 12 appearances. He hadn’t allowed a hit in eight of his last 11 outings.
“The result is there,” Peralta said. “There’s no question. My last couple outings have been better because I’ve been pitching ahead; then I don’t get hurt. When you fall behind, that’s when you have to come to the strike zone, and that’s when you give up the big hit. I feel like that’s my mentality, come into the game and attack the strike zone. I’ve been throwing better lately.”
Peralta entered Sunday’s game with two runners in scoring position and no outs. He got a pop out from Eddie Rosario, struck out Miguel Sano and an inning-ending fly ball from Marwin Gonzalez.
The strikeout of Sano, who hit a tape measure homer earlier in the game, provided the perfect example of how helpless Peralta can make an opposing hitter when they’re behind in the count.
Sano fouled off back-to-back 95-mph fastballs to start the at-bat. Then he just locked up and couldn’t swing the bat when Peralta threw an 84 mph slider for a called third strike.
Peralta’s problem earlier this season was getting to those counts where his entire arsenal is available and he could go either in or out of the zone. Instead he had to come to the hitters, and they made him pay. Opponents batted .314 against him in his first 18 appearances this season.
“You don’t have to be so perfect,” Peralta said of the difference being ahead. “You want the pitcher to chase, but it’s because you’re ahead. You get ahead 0-2, and you’ve got at least two more pitches that you can play around with and try to bounce it or whatever, just try to make the hitter chase.”
Peralta, who converted 14 of 14 save chances last season, pitched nine scoreless innings from May 17 through June 8, the longest scoreless stretch by a Royals reliever this season.
Royals catcher Martin Maldonado caught Peralta when the two were with the Milwaukee Brewers. They’ve known each other since they were in the minors.
“I played with that guy when he was a starter, and just talking to him, he said he feels more consistent every time he pitches,” Maldonado said after Sunday’s game. “I think he gets a better rhythm, and that’s what he’s been saying. He was throwing every pitch, any count and getting ahead, using the two-seamers. He didn’t make a mistake.”
Royals manager Ned Yost called Sunday’s outing as good as Peralta has looked all season. Peralta has now stranded eight of his last nine inherited runners, including the two in scoring position on Sunday in a game the Royals won by two runs.
Yost explained why chalking Peralta’s recent success to getting ahead in the count is both accurate and also probably oversimplification. He said he falls into the trap of summing up a pitcher’s struggles as “falling behind” too often.
“When you’re fighting it, you’re fighting mechanics, you’re fighting to try to get ahead in the count, you’re fighting to try to get the feeling so that you can consistently duplicate your mechanics,” Yost said. “Well, when you’re going good that all comes into play. The reason why you’re ahead in the count now is everything is working together.”
Peralta has settled into a groove where everything has synced up recently.