Who will be the big breakout pitcher of 2014? An early frontrunner: Wily Peralta, the Brewers’ 24-year-old righthander who looks like he’s ready to bloom into one of the best pitchers in the National League.
Peralta tossed eight dominant innings in a 2-0 win against the Reds in Cincinnati on Friday night, allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out a season-high seven over eight innings. Not only did he notch his fifth straight quality start of the year, Peralta also doubled home the only two runs of the game.
Peralta’s excellent start to the season — he’s 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA and has 32 strikeouts over 31 innings — is no fluke. He has always possessed electric stuff. In 2013, his average fastball velocity (94.8) trailed only Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez. Unfortunately, he's also been a maddeningly inconsistent starter in the Brewers rotation — dominant one start, a mess the next. Late last season, though, there were signs he was beginning to put it all together as he began flashing a power slider — from June on, he posted a 3.48 ERA.
Milwaukee's bullpen has been a big part of its early success as well. Francisco Rodriguez relieved Peralta on Friday and dominated the Reds in the ninth with his devastating changeup to pick up his 14th save and extend his scoreless streak to 14 innings.
However, the biggest reason for the Brewers' fast start has been the starters atop an underrated rotation that leads the majors with 24 quality starts. After a rocky 2013, Yovani Gallardo (2-0, 1.91 ERA) is pitcing like an ace again, Kyle Lohse (4-1, 2.70) is off to a strong start, and Peralta, with his 95 mph fastball and power slider, looks like the real deal. With their win over the Reds, the Brewers improved to 12-3 on the road and are now 21-9, six games ahead of the second-place Cardinals in the NL Central. There was news on Friday that Ryan Braun could be headed to the DL with a strained oblique, but even if Braun misses significant time, the Brew Crew will keep on rolling if they keep getting pitching performances like this. It’s May, and the Brewers look like they’re for real.