Busting out of a pitching slump against professional hitters is never easy, but then again, Nashville’s Wily Peralta has faced much bigger challenges in his young life.
For instance, there was the matter of moving to another country when he was 17 and having to learn another language and get along, far from friends and family, on his own. That was 2007, not long after the Dominican Republic native had just signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.
But the toughest thing was just around the corner that year. He hurt his pitching elbow in his inaugural professional season, and with a 6.63 in 38 professional innings to that point, Peralta was just a scared kid who thought his career was over.
“They did an MRI, they told me I had to have Tommy John surgery, and I told them, ‘no,’ because I was scared and I thought my career would be over then. I thought they were going to release me. But they told me, “No, we like you, we’re not going to release you for that,’” Peralta recalled.
That seems in the distant past, now. Peralta has not only recovered from surgery, but excelled.
Just two years later, Peralta, pitching for Single-A Wisconsin, struck out 118 hitters and posted a 3.47 ERA in 103 2/3 innings. In 2010, he regressed a bit the next year in AA ball, but in 150 2/3 innings between AA and AAA Nashville last season, his 157 strikeouts put him back on the Major League radar. Baseball America named him the No. 1 prospect in the Brewers’ organization, and No. 56 overall, before this season.
Peralta even got a taste of the Major Leagues on April 22 of this year, pitching an inning for Milwaukee against Colorado. The results were mixed: Peralta struck out Tyler Colvin with a 97 mile-per-hour fastball, but also gave up three hits and an earned run in one inning pitched that day.
The experience didn’t last long. Brewers’ reliever Kameron Loe came off the disabled list the next day. Someone had to be moved off the roster, and Peralta was optioned back to Nashville.
But you can bet the 6-foot-2, 240-pound right-hander will be back. He’s too talented, and he’s come too far to stick where he is.
On Thursday, Peralta spoke of his humble beginnings of coming to America, where there were immediate complications for a growing boy. Peralta said that his dietary choices as a kid consisted of “rice and beans,” so the experience of ordering food, complicated by the fact that he didn’t know English, was even a challenge.
“I always was really quiet. Those American guys, they know a little bit of Spanish. But I just pointed (at menus)– if I didn’t know the word, if there was something at McDonald’s… if I saw one of those guys that I know, I’d just ask them, ‘How do you say this?’ I just want a No. 1, or No. 2, or whatever. I’d just say the number, because that was easy for me!” he grinned.
Peralta has worked hard at his English since those days, and now speaks it fluently thanks to three-day-a-week language classes. This year, pitching has been a bigger challenge for Peralta than the language barrier. In 94 innings at Nashville, he has a 5-8 record with a 4.98 ERA.
The biggest problem has been his 52 walks, which Peralta and Sounds pitching coach Fred Dabney say is a result of not having his body properly pointed towards home plate at release point.
But Dabney thinks Peralta is on the way to getting that issue licked. Over his last four starts – a span of 22 1/3 innings – Peralta has given up only one run and seven walks against 21 strikeouts.
“…For the most part, yeah, he’s figured it out. He knows what he needs to do. There’s no doubt that he’s going to finish strong this year,” Dabney said.
“I’m more ready than I was at the beginning of the season,” adds Peralta.
Dabney sees Peralta as “a No. 1 or No. 2-type (starting pitcher)” in the majors if he continues to work. But even if baseball doesn’t work out for Peralta like most think, the jovial Peralta has earned a place in his pitching coach’s heart for good.
“He’s the kind of guy, to be honest with you, that if I had a daughter and she was a teenager and got into dating, I wouldn’t be upset if she brought home a Wily Peralta. I can’t say that for anybody else, but he’s that kind of kid, a tremendous kid off the field. Hard-working, dedicated, he’s just a joy to be around, actually,” he said.