WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Wily Peralta has been doing this long enough to know not to stress over a couple of rough outings early in spring training. The veteran right-hander debuted with the Brewers in 2012 as a 23-year-old, and more than a decade later he’s trying to crack the Nationals’ Opening Day roster off a minor league contract.
So when Peralta struggled in his first two appearances of camp, allowing four runs in two innings, others might’ve thought that doomed his chances of making the team. Peralta didn’t worry.
“The main thing for me early in spring training is just how my body feels, and how my arm feels,” he said. “I think it’s been feeling great through the whole spring training. And I’m feeling better lately throwing.”
Peralta certainly looked the part tonight during a 3-0 victory over the Mets, tossing three scoreless innings against an opponent that hit only one ball out of the infield against him. Getting a chance to make his first start because Josiah Gray got his work in earlier in the morning on a back field, Peralta made the most of it, inducing seven ground balls and one popup while striking out two.
The prevalence of balls on the ground was perhaps the best sign of success for Peralta, who relies on a sinker to induce weak contact.
“Yeah, 100 percent,” he said. “I feel like I’m a groundball pitcher. I consider myself that. Today was one of those signs. I was able to locate my two-seamer down. That’s the pitch that works most for me. Overall, I feel really good.”
Peralta didn’t look so good in his first two spring outings, but he seems to have turned a corner since. He now hasn’t allowed a run over his last 6 1/3 innings, capped off by tonight’s start.
“I think I do OK, especially my last three or four outings,” he said.” My first two, I was leaving everything flat. But that’s part of spring training. Your first couple outings, you’re not going to feel 100 percent. But right now, I feel like I’m getting in a good rhythm and I feel really good about it.”
Whether any of this is enough to land him a spot on the 26-man roster come March 30 remains to be seen. Though the Nationals now have an opening in their rotation with Cade Cavalli needing season-ending Tommy John surgery, manager Davey Martinez has suggested fellow veteran Chad Kuhl will get first shot at the vacancy.
Though he’s been a starter most of his career, Peralta did have success as a reliever last season with the Tigers, so there’s still a chance he could hold that role here.
“Every time they give me the opportunity to go on the mound, I’m just trying to do the best that I can, and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “Right now, honestly, I’m not thinking about anything. I’m just going out there and pitch. Whatever decision they make, I understand the business. I understand the game. I’ve been long enough around it to understand it. But the way that I feel, I just have confidence in myself every time that I’m going to go out there and do the best that I can.”
Martinez did leave the door somewhat ajar for Peralta to start when asked about the possibility tonight.
“Wily’s definitely in the mix,” the manager said. “He’s a veteran guy, knows how to get outs. And look, he’s still throwing 93-95. That’s pretty good.”
* Gray threw 82 pitches over five innings this morning on a back field against minor leaguers, a good ramp-up for the right-hander who is lined up to begin the season as the Nationals’ No. 2 starter behind Patrick Corbin.
The Nats specifically wanted Gray to work on his changeup. With the freedom to throw that pitch as much as he wanted in a controlled environment, he wound up tossing 10-11 of them, according to manager Davey Martinez.
Gray should return to make two more Grapefruit League starts before heading north.
* Outfield prospect Robert Hassell III is close to returning to the lineup in minor league camp after being shut down for a week with a sore wrist. According to general manager Mike Rizzo, Hassell’s wrist issue wasn’t directly connected to the hamate bone surgery he had last fall, but might’ve been the result of taking too many swings in his comeback from the surgery.
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