Closing Time: Freddy Peralta graduates

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Thus far, rookie Freddy Peralta looks terrific from every angle (AP/Morry Gash)
Thus far, rookie Freddy Peralta looks terrific from every angle (AP/Morry Gash)

The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central, 2.5 games clear of the Cubs. It’s a fun and highly-watchable team, a mix of names you know and names you’re getting to know.

Add Freddy Peralta to that latter group. And give Peralta his graduation papers, he’s pushed his ownership tag to the point that we can’t discuss him as a reasonable add any longer. He’s climbed over the 50-percent threshold, and the future looks bright. We’re now trying to figure out where the story is headed.

The backstory should be a review, stuff we discussed two weeks back (when he was five percent owned). Peralta is a 22-year-old rookie who’s been a strikeout ace at Triple-A and a revelation in four MLB starts. The Twins got the better of Peralta in his second turn, but he’s been a knockout in the other three appearances.

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Start with a 13-strikeout debut at Coors Field, with just one hit allowed. That’s insane. Peralta also tamed the Pirates over six scoreless innings, and Tuesday against Kansas City, it was more bagel parade (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 10 K).

Now would be a good time to run some Peralta video. Filthy is as filthy does.

Okay, no one gets a trophy for stopping the 2018 Royals, but appreciate the likely Signature Significance in front of us. Thus far 29 pitchers have managed at least two double-digit strikeout starts, and Peralta made it on just four appearances. He’s sitting on a 1.59 ERA, a 0.71 WHIP, and nine walks against 35 strikeouts over 22.2 innings. These are Wiffle Ball stats.

Of course the kid is going to eventually regress, that’s not any eureka moment. No one is this good. And the Brewers will have a clogged rotation soon enough; Zach Davies should return from the disabled list next week. Peralta’s spot in the rotation isn’t carved in stone, not yet anyway.

That said, the Brewers fancy themselves contenders (consider the Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich trades in the offseason), and they need to respect anyone who’s getting it done right now. And the schedule might come in handy as Craig Counsell tries to navigate the glut of pitching. Milwaukee doesn’t have an off day until the All Star Break, and there’s also a doubleheader in the second week of July. The Crew could easily decide to run with six starters, let the logjam figure itself out.

No matter what, Peralta is set to start against the Reds this weekend. Screw Harvey Day (his opponent), it’s Peralta Day. After that, Counsell has some decisions to make.

The only reasonable assumption I see is Peralta hanging around. I always consider my entire fantasy roster tradable, but I’d have to really like a Peralta offer at this moment. The upside is too tantalizing. I’m probably going to hold on with both hands and see where the ride takes us.

• I recognize many fantasy owners dream of complete domination and demolition, assembling an All-Star roster and just crushing opponents.

Hey, I have nothing against star players. Everyone needs a few. But I feel more satisfaction when I find production from a hidden or unlikely source.

Consider Gorkys Hernandez in San Francisco.

Hernandez has been around, stopping in Pittsburgh and Miami before hitting San Francisco in 2016. He played often last year, and did extremely little in 310 at-bats — a .255/.327/.326 slash, no home runs, 12 steals. The bags are nice, the average mediocre, the power nonexistent. The Giants viewed him as a disposable depth player to open the year.

Alas, Hernandez is playing often, and playing quite well. In his age-30 season, he’s apparently figured some stuff out. He has a nifty .284/.338/.482 slash over 68 games, with 10 homers (where did that come from?) and four steals. He’s batted leadoff in seven of his last 10 starts.

He was the hero in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Colorado, with an early homer (a center-field blast) and the go-ahead walk, plating a run, in the eighth. The leash gets longer.

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Hernandez was a secondary prospect in his early days, cracking the Top 100 for two major ranking sites in 2008 and 2009. But he was never slotted higher than No. 62 (Baseball America, 2009). He really can’t be called a post-hype prospect; the full hype never arrived.

Hernandez is hitting the ball harder this year, obviously a good thing. He’s also become more aggressive, perhaps hyper aggressive — his walk rate is down a speck, and his strikeout rate has spiked to 28.4 percent. Some might feel this approach will catch up to Hernandez sometime, with all the swinging strikes and out-of-zone chases. But perhaps this is a player who’s learned how to sell out for power and take advantage of it. Selective aggression can actually be an extremely valuable tool at the plate.

I don’t blame anyone who screams out “pumpkin” and doesn’t want in on Hernandez. But at some point we have to trust what’s in front of us. Over the last five weeks, he’s the No. 20 outfielder in 5×5 value. That is no longer a tiny sample size. You don’t have to put Hernandez on an extended leash, but I’m fine to see where this story goes — he’s already on a handful of my rosters.

Hernandez is still available in 92 percent of Yahoo leagues. He’s lagging far behind the ownership tags of Dexter Fowler and Bradley Zimmer, for crying out loud. Remember, we really don’t care about the name. We just want the numbers.

• The Giants closing chase didn’t clean up Tuesday, even with the 3-2 victory.

Mark Melancon worked the eighth and allowed two hits and a run. Lefty Tony Watson retired one batter, two pitches, and cleaned up the Melancon mess. Sam Dyson survived the ninth (double, walk) when D.J. LeMahieu’s sharply-hit ball turned into a game-ending double-play. To be fair, the leadoff double off Dyson was a bloop, a total fluke. But had he merely recorded one out during LeMahieu’s at-bat, the Giants probably would have summoned lefty Will Smith to face Charlie Blackmon. Dyson only threw 11-of-19 pitches for strikes, and walking Chris Iannetta is inexcusable.

How badly did you need those saves, again?

• It’s not easy to figure Detroit’s bullpen, given the team is going nowhere. But Shane Greene has struggled this week, picking up two losses and pushing his ERA over 4. That 1.27 WHIP is mediocre, too. If and when the Tigers want to try someone else, Joe Jimenez (2.65/1.04, 41 K, 9 BB) has the profile of a closer. (Of course, Jimenez was knocked around Monday, too.)

I’m also holding onto Kirby Yates in San Diego, partly for the wipeout innings and partly for the possibility that Brad Hand is traded later this summer. To be fair, the Padres could and maybe even should shop Yates, too. They’re in a rebuild, and relief pitchers are a luxury for non-contending clubs. In the meantime, look at Yates’s 2018 domination — 0.82 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 40 whiffs against nine walks over 33 innings. He’s turned himself into a fantasy asset in medium and deep mixed leagues.

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• Whatever they did to fix Matt Carpenter, man oh man, it’s worked. Carpenter was hitting .140 as recently as May 15, but that’s when the party started. He’s on a .349/.424/.691 barrage in his last 38 games, with 33 runs, 12 homers, and 23 RBIs. (Sorry, he’s not a baserunner. But he does grab three positions in Yahoo leagues.)

Carpenter’s best game of the year came Tuesday against Cleveland, a 5-for-5 explosion with a double and two homers. Pretty heady stuff when you consider Corey Freaking Kluber started for the Tribe.

It’s likely Carpenter was playing hurt for the first few weeks of the year, and he’s also maintained a strong hard-hit profile all year. Some bad luck played into the nightmare start, sure. But no one bats .140 for six weeks without being part of the problem. The good news is that when Carpenter finally broke this slump, the signs were clear to see — he didn’t merely start collecting hits, he started ripping extra-base knocks. He batted .393 in the second half of May, with nine doubles, four homers, and a .738 slugging percentage.

Obviously not every slumping player gets a smooth landing. As I’ve said for years, everyone comes around, except when they don’t. But now we have to consider Carpenter back in the $20 and up class, especially when we factor in the three positions of eligibility. Heck, it wouldn’t be a stretch to put him on the All-Star team — his .136 OPS+ is just four points from a personal best, and he could be especially useful for the NL given his defensive versatility.

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