MILWAUKEE — Another short start for Freddy Peralta meant more experience for postseason reliever-in-training Aaron Ashby.
It was a win that lifted the Brewers 31 games over .500 to match the franchise record set in 1982. And, with the Reds’ 10-inning loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field, it lowered Milwaukee’s magic number to 10 to clinch the National League Central.
“We know it’s in our hands right now,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “You work this hard to build this lead and it’s in our hands. That’s how you see it. Take care of our business. We’ve earned that.”
Eduardo Escobar provided the winning run with his first home run since Aug. 2 as the Brewers salvaged a game that Ashby helped put back in order. The Phillies tied the game during a two-run third inning that featured a pair of defensive miscues by shortstop Luis Urías, and as a result, Peralta had only 11 outs to show for 81 pitches in his second start off the 10-day injured list. He was charged with three runs (one earned) on four hits in 3 2/3 innings, with one walk and four strikeouts.
Brent Suter came on to get the final out of the fourth inning after Peralta reached his pitch limit before Ashby breezed through two more good innings, allowing only a walk to Bryce Harper in his second inning of work. Ashby erased Harper by inducing a J.T. Realmuto double play, one of four ground balls induced by Ashby in six batters.
It’s been quite a turnaround for the 23-year-old left-hander since a nightmarish Major League debut against the Cubs on June 30, when Ashby started and allowed seven runs (four earned) on four hits and three walks while recording only two outs.
In six appearances since then, including three spot starts and three relief outings, Ashby has limited the damage to four earned runs in 19 1/3 innings for a 1.86 ERA. He has 18 strikeouts versus four walks in that span.
“A lot of good things are coming for him, I can tell you that,” Peralta said. “For me, he’s going to help the team the rest of the season and probably in the playoffs, too.”
The Brewers are grooming Ashby for just that.
“Aaron did a great job,” Counsell said. “We’re trying to throw something a little bit different at Aaron every time, and he’s handling it all very well.”
What did Counsell mean by that?
“We have given him a heads up on when he’s going to pitch, and then today was, ‘You may pitch, you may not. You’re in the bullpen, be ready to go,’” Counsell said.
He added, “If we get into the all hands on deck situation that we’re hoping to get into, we’re not going to be able to script anything for him. It’s going to be, ‘Get ready and get in the game.’”
There is organizational precedent for Ashby being in line for a postseason roster spot. The Brewers used Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta in relief in 2018, when they were ascending prospects and the team made it all the way to a Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers.
Woodruff and Burnes played particularly prominent roles in that postseason despite their inexperience. Remember Woodruff’s home run off Clayton Kershaw in Game 1? That came while he was pitching two scoreless innings in relief of veteran starter Gio González.
“It’s great to see him in this moment and what he’s doing for the team right now and for himself, too,” Peralta said. “He’s looking comfortable. He has a routine.”
As for Peralta, he suggested that Wednesday’s outing went better than his pitching line said. He has thrown 53 and 81 pitches in his first two starts back from minor shoulder inflammation.
“A big step,” he said. “Because I was out, it’s a process now for hitting my spots almost every time, you know what I’m saying? I felt much better than the last time and I feel strong. Right now for me, that’s all that matters. And, of course, win the games when I pitch.”
Said Counsell: “I don’t think he’s locked in but I think he’s healthy, I don’t think there’s any question about that. I thought his velocity was outstanding today. I think we just have to keep getting him out there on regular rest, get him a regular turn. We have probably four more until the end, so we have an opportunity to do that and keep him moving forward.”