Joel Peralta earning more significant bullpen role
The Nationals will begin using Joel Peralta later in games and sometimes to protect leads, mainly because he has given them no choice. His performance has demanded a more significant bullpen role.
Since Peralta made his Nationals debut June 22, he has allowed one earned run in 14 2/3 innings while yielding eight hits, walking two and striking out eight. As Class AAA Syracuse's closer for the first half of the year, Peralta saved 20 games in 20 tries and allowed four earned runs. In 48 professional innings this season, Peralta has allowed five earned runs.
"We're going to try to work him into some more situations," Manager Jim Riggleman said. "You get to the point where it's not a small sampling. It's a fairly large number or appearances that he's had with a lot of success. We're going to try to expand on it and see where he can take us."
Peralta has earned a permanent spot, and it's become even more necessary as Tyler Walker experienced a setback in his rehab. Walker suffered soreness in his right shoulder following his latest rehab appearance, forcing the Nationals to shut him down. Walker, on the disabled list since late June, will stop throwing until the soreness leaves, and he is unlikely to return within a month.
"Walker is not feeling that good," Riggleman said. "His shoulder's just not responding as well as we had hoped."
Luckily for them, they have Peralta. His success owes to his newfound approach. He used to use his fastball to get ahead of batters, then tried to make batters chase his splitter and slider out of the strike zone for outs. This season, Peralta has been throwing more breaking balls early in the count and mixing more fastballs when ahead in the count. The result has been more favorable counts and more defensive swings from batters.
"I've been throwing it for a strike in any count," Peralta said. "I think that's been the difference. Before, I didn't have the confidence I needed to pitch backwards - to pitch breaking stuff first and then finish strong. Right now, it feels like I've been throwing it very good."
So how did a 34-year-old journeyman uncover a new approach? Peralta played winter ball in the Dominican this offseason. "Over there, it's a fastball hitters league," Peralta said. "I knew I had to do something." Desperate to throw something other than a fastball to salivating hitters, he resolved to throw any pitch in any count. Peralta discovered he could have success starting sequences with sliders and splitters. Syracuse pitching coach Greg Booker harped on the same lesson.
"I took it with me all the way," Peralta said.
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