Freddy Peralta is ready for his new role as the Milwaukee Brewers' ace: 'He's starving for that limelight'

PHOENIX — If there’s one way the Brewers have succeeded in recent years, it has been their ability to develop homegrown, frontline starting pitching. Over the past few seasons, Milwaukee developed a three-headed monster at the top of its rotation with 2021 NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, two-time All-Star Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta.

But now, with Burnes traded to the Orioles last month and Woodruff out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair the anterior capsule in his right shoulder, Peralta has become the Brewers’ ace and Opening Day starter.

“I feel grateful,” Peralta told Yahoo Sports about being the team’s No. 1 arm. “It's a long process that we have to go through and understand. I probably didn't know [how] all that time. But it's a process. Learning from the veteran guys. Just grateful about everything and whatever is to come.”

The keys to the top spot in the Brewers’ rotation were not given to Peralta by default this year. Over the past six seasons, the Brewers have gotten to see how he has handled different situations and opportunities. When he was first called up in 2018, he pitched half the season in the team’s rotation. In '19, he moved to a swingman role out of the bullpen and did so again during the shortened season in ‘20.

In 2021, Peralta finally had the opportunity to be in the rotation full-time, and he thrived. He took a significant step forward and became one of the best pitchers in baseball, going 10-5 with a sparkling 2.81 ERA and earning his first NL All-Star appearance. In the two seasons since then, he has become a model of consistency. Last season, he reached the 200-strikeout plateau for the first time in his career and made a career-high 30 starts.

Fast-forward to Opening Day 2024, and Peralta has come a long way since he was acquired by the Brewers at the age of 19 as part of a 2015 trade that sent first baseman Adam Lind to the Mariners. In that time, Peralta’s growth as a player and person has been seen throughout the organization.

“Just being around Freddy now for that many years, he's just an incredible man and passionate,” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “And to see him grow, I mean, literally — physically grow and grow mentally. He cares about others. He's just a loving kid. It's beautiful.”

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The Brewers’ rotation was as strong as any in baseball over the past several seasons. In Peralta’s breakout year in 2021, Burnes won the NL Cy Young Award with a 2.43 ERA, and Woodruff finished fifth in Cy Young voting with a 2.56 ERA.

Peralta took a lot of his cues from watching Burnes and Woodruff and trying to emulate the things they did. Both started as swingmen in the bullpen before making their way to the rotation full-time and then beginning to dominate the league. Having gone through similar journeys, they made ideal mentors for Peralta.

“I think a lot of us went through that,” Burnes said. “It's just one of the things that at the end of the day, you gotta do what's best for the team. It's not always what you want to do. But whatever you can do to help the team win … you keep your head down, and you keep getting after it.”

“I think of it like a greenhouse effect,” Brewers pitching coach Chris Hook said of the dynamic among the trio. “It helped [Freddy] grow better. There was a friendly competition between those three that was really cool, which lifted everyone. But he thrives in big moments. He wants them.”

The Brewers are in uncharted territory this season with their rotation — and the rest of their roster, for that matter. If Milwaukee is out of it early this year, shortstop Willy Adames or even new first baseman Rhys Hoskins could be on a different roster by September. On the flip side, if the Brewers are good, there’s a high probability that it’s in part because Peralta has his best season yet.

In his role as the ace, new challenges lie ahead for the 27-year-old right-hander, who is looking to reach career highs in both starts and innings pitched this year. Beyond that, Peralta understands what he’s being asked to do for the team going into this season. When a pitcher becomes “the guy” in a rotation, he also becomes the stopper leaned on to prevent or end a losing skid, in addition to being expected to dominate every fifth day.

That’s the mindset that comes with being a team’s ace, and Peralta is embracing it. And now, after years of showing the Brewers that he had it, he’s about to get the chance to show the rest of baseball.

“I want everybody to watch me when I’m on the mound like I’m doing what I'm supposed to do,” Peralta said. “... Just knowing that there’s a pitcher out there that’s competing and fighting to be the best and putting the team in the position to win games.”

“This opportunity to take this staff and be the leader of the staff is something that he's grown to do. But he’s also ready to do it,” Hook said. “He's starving for that limelight. It's like, ‘I want that.’ He's always said that to me, and I think all of those guys wanted it. But he was more outspoken than most.

“So this opportunity is gonna be really cool for him, and for him to do that and take it and be the guy for 30 starts is gonna be really cool.”