After his scoreless inning against the Boston Red Sox on September 10th, Joel Peralta‘s ERA stood at 2.76. Three appearances later, it stands at 3.50. On September 11th against Boston, Peralta allowed a pair of walks whle recording only one out before departing for Roberto Hernandez (who, of course, proceeded to give up a walk and a grand slam). Then last night, Peralta totally came apart again against the Minnesota Twins, allowing a solo homer to Ryan Doumit and a 3-run shot to Josmil Pinto to turn the Rays’ 4-2 lead into a 6-4 deficit. His problems in the two appearances were distinct: on the 11th, his fastball velocity was the lowest of his career while on Sunday, his fastball was fine but his splitter and curveball just weren’t there. But even if the symptoms displayed were different, the disease could be the exact same thing: Peralta’s heavy workload this season is getting to him. Do the Rays have to find a new setup man realizing that can’t be sure what Peralta can give them the rest of the year?
This season, Peralta leads the American League in appearances with 73. His 220 appearances since joining the Rays in 2011 are always the most among AL pitchers in that span. Just from those three seasons, Peralta is tied for 6th in the history of baseball for the most 70-appearance seasons by a pitcher 35 years of age or older. Most of that list is populated with relievers who established reputations as durable setup men or closers for years and kept it going into their mid-30’s and beyond. In sharp contrast, Peralta never had a 65-game season before 2011 and hadn’t even thrown more than 40 major league games since 2007. Some pitchers just have rubber arms. But while Peralta has appeared to show that characteristic the last few years, it was never something he had done before. Peralta has proven himself as an effective pitcher even as his fastball velocity has gone down over the years. However, he is an aging player unaccustomed to that type of workload, and it was only a matter of time before it caught with him. We talked about those two bad appearances above, but since August 7th, Peralta has just a 5.09 ERA, managing just a 21-10 strikeout to walk ratio and allowing 3 home runs in 17.2 innings pitched. According to Brooks Baseball, Peralta’s fastball velocity has gone down 1 MPH since August 7th compared to before, from 91.14 MPH to 90.17 MPH, and he has also seen his splitter drop from 82.08 MPH to 81.17 ERA and his curveball drop from 79.03 MPH to 78.35 MPH. Peralta has done so much for the Rays and everyone wants to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it’s becoming increasingly clearer that Joel Peralta just is not the same pitcher that he was earlier in the year.
The good news is that Peralta hasn’t gotten injured. Right now for the Rays, though, their primary concern is that is that he has burnt himself out and they can’t be sure that they’ll get from him the rest of the year. With Peralta ailing, the key is going to be for the rest of the bullpen to step up. Jake McGee and Alex Torres will see more time in the 8th inning and Jesse Crain, when he finally makes his Rays debut, will immediately be pushed into a high-leverage role as well. The rest of the relief corps will have the pressure on them increase exponentially as well. The Rays have Peralta signed for one more year with team options after that and with more rest he still could be successful. They are not about to give up on him after how good he has been the last three years. Right now, however, Peralta is fading fast and they have to find alternate solutions.