Kansas City, Mo. — Baseball has a wonderful way of creating moments like this.
Wily Peralta had pitched eight straight seasons in the big leagues from 2012 through 2019 and quite suddenly last spring was back in the Dominican Republic and out of the game. But there he was 23 months later, on Tuesday, stepping onto one of the last big-league mounds he’d pitched on back in July of 2019 — the one at Kauffman Stadium — facing the last team he played for, the Royals.
“It felt great,” said the 32-year-old Peralta, with a wide smile. “There was a lot of adrenaline inside of me. I was just so happy to be back, especially facing the team I played for last.”
Peralta struck out Whit Merrifield, after falling behind 3-0, to end the seventh and pitched a scoreless eighth, preserving the Tigers’ one-run lead in a 4-3 victory. Welcome back, Wily Peralta.
“It was nothing he hasn’t done before,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s done it at this stadium. He’s been here before. It didn’t cause me any indigestion or heartburn to use him in that situation. I felt like he was going to come in and do his thing.”
That’s a high level of trust from a manager who until Tuesday night hadn’t seen him pitch in person except from an opposing dugout. That’s the other crazy part of Peralta’s journey back.
He had elbow surgery at the end of 2019 and even though he’d been released by the Royals, he was healthy by last March and fielding offers from teams when the pandemic shut the game down.
“I just decided to go home and not play,” he said.
The Tigers signed him to a minor-league deal on Feb. 19 but again he had to wait. He wasn’t able to obtain his work visa or clear COVID-19 protocols until March 31 — the day the Tigers broke camp and headed north.
He was coming, they were going. He didn’t throw a single pitch in spring training.
“It was frustrating,” he said. “After you spend a year off you want to come back, especially with a new organization. You want to come to spring training and show what you got. I wasn’t able to do that.”
What he was able to do, though, was work his tail off in the Dominican. He pitched in the Dominican Winter League and essentially put himself through his own spring training, even finding hitters to throw to.
“I come ready,” he said. “I was doing all my normal stuff. I treated it like spring training in the Dominican and I came to the States on March 31 ready to go.”
After a couple of weeks in Lakeland, Peralta worked at the alternate site in Toledo and then made six starts for the Mud Hens. He posted a 2.75 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP, before the Tigers purchased his contract on Monday.
“My pitches are still the same, I just feel they are a little better this year because I’m 100% healthy,” he said. “I am able to do things I wasn’t able to do in 2019. The mix is the same, but I’ve got better movement this year with all my pitches.”
He only threw two pitches on Tuesday — a 94-mph four-seam fastball and an 82-mph slider. The one pitch he said has come back to him after a four-year hiatus, a two-seamer, he didn’t even throw.
“I feel like I lost my two-seamer the last couple of years I pitched in the big leagues,” he said. “But now I have better movement and I feel like I can use it more.”
He will get his chance on Saturday. Hinch said Peralta would get the start against the Angels in Anaheim. He will be filling in for injured Matthew Boyd (elbow soreness).
“I’ve already started a couple of games (at Toledo),” Peralta said. “At the beginning it was more difficult (adjusting to a starting role). I hadn’t started since 2017. But right now I feel comfortable in that role. … I pitched five innings, about 75 pitches. So I should be able to go 75 to 100 pitches.”
Again, this is not his first rodeo. He started 112 games for the Brewers between 2012 and 2016. He won 17 games in 2014. He’s also been a closer (for the Royals). Not much he hasn’t done in this game. It’s just been a minute since he’s been in the big leagues.
“It just feels great to be back,” Peralta said. “There is a good group of guys here. Lot of talented, young pitchers on this pitching staff who are trying to establish themselves in the big leagues. I think this is a very together group and they have welcomed me very well.
“Things are going well so far.”
Tigers at Angels
► First pitch: 9:38 p.m. Friday, Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Anaheim, Calif.
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► RHP Jose Urena (2-6, 5.16), Tigers: You know he’s eager to erase the memory of his last start — an eight-run, 1⅔-inning meltdown against the White Sox on Saturday. He didn’t have any feel for his slider and threw a much higher percentage of change-ups, his third-best pitch, than normal. The velocity on his sinker was down about 1 mph on average, too.
► RHP Alex Cobb (4-2, 4.98), Angels: He hasn’t given up much hard contact this season. His 2.6% barrel rate (balls hit with 95-mph or better exit velocity) is in the top three percentile in baseball. He throws a two-seamer (92-93), a hard splitter (87-88) and a curveball (82). The splitter is generating a 36% whiff rate.