Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Joel Peralta dazzling as setup man for Tampa Bay Rays

SEATTLE — Fernando Rodney has deservedly received top billing for his ongoing star turns, producing the most saves in the majors as well as the most entertaining onfield celebration as he shoots his imaginary arrow.

But Joel Peralta's performance in a supporting role has certainly been worthy of some attention.

"What Joel has done hasn't been lost on me or us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We get it. It's been fabulous. And I pretty much believe industry-wide it's been recognized."

Cast primarily as Rodney's setup man, Peralta delivered again in Monday's late 4-1 win. After Alex Cobb made an early 4-0 lead stand up with his fourth straight solid seven-inning start, and before Rodney finished for his 22nd straight and 37th overall save, Peralta did his part, yet again, striking out the side.

"Amazing," Rodney said Tuesday. "He's been amazing."

Peralta's overall numbers — 1-4, 3.42 in an AL high-matching 57 games — don't look all that good, primarily the result of a rough start to the season he attributed to his mechanics being out of whack after not playing winter ball.

Take out his first four appearances, and the 2.27 ERA, .151 opponents average and 29 holds (second most in the AL) plus two saves and a win are more representative of his contributions.

Since the All-Star break, after a trip home to the Dominican Republic for a mechanical tune-up with his longtime personal pitching guru, Fausto Mejia, Peralta has been nearly untouchable.

In 161/3 innings over 17 games, Peralta has allowed one run, for a 0.55 ERA, and only four hits, for a .077 average. Of the 56 batters he has faced, he has struck out a staggering 25.

"I've never seen myself as a strikeout pitcher," he said. "So I have no idea why it is happening."

Peralta's combination of pitches and assortment of delivery tactics are challenging for hitters — right- and left-handed, and often the opposing team's best.

"He's gone through the meaty part of the batting order a lot," Maddon said. "And a lot of those have been 1-2-3."

Peralta said Rodney-like attention "is not what I'm looking for," that he is more interested in helping the team. But the question was asked of Maddon if the more workmanlike Peralta should have some type of celebratory gimmick of his own.

"Maybe," Maddon said, "a slingshot would be appropriate."

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