Mar­lins’ Peters finds curve, then spot in bigs

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - MINOR LEAGUES -

On a back field at the Miami Mar­lins’ spring train­ing fa­cil­ity in Jupiter, Fla., in 2015, Dil­lon Peters threw a curve­ball. Not quite earth-shak­ing news to you, but it rocked his world.

As the curve spun out of his hand, it was as if a long-lost friend came back into Peters’ life. The left-handed pitcher, one of the Mar­lins’ top prospects, lost his re­ally good curve­ball af­ter high school in In­di­anapo­lis. It just up and went. And then it was back. “I lost the feel for it when I was at col­lege,” Peters said. “When I started play­ing catch again in the Tommy John re­hab process I threw a curve­ball and it was re­ally easy to come out of my hand. It was like I had it my whole life. It was like the first pitch I got back dur­ing re­hab.”

It is now his “get-me-out-thismess” pitch.

Peters was pro­moted from Class AA Jack­sonville and ar­rived at Mar­lins Park on Aug. 31 — his 25th birth­day. He was 7-3 with a 1.57 ERA in the South­ern League and Miami could not wait for him. In the mi­nors, that curve­ball brought soft con­tact, ei­ther div­ing short of the plate or spin­ning just off it.

It had the same ef­fect on bigleague hit­ters in his Sept. 1 de­but against the Philadel­phia Phillies.

Peters pitched seven score­less in­nings and struck out eight and gave up three hits. Clark Spencer of the Miami Her­ald, us­ing the Bill James for­mula known as game score, sug­gested Peters had a bet­ter first MLB start than for- mer All-Stars Josh Beck­ett, Don­trelle Willis and Jose Fer­nan­dez, who all be­gan their big-league ca­reers for the Mar­lins with flour­ishes.

The de­but was rut-free, but Peters’ path to the big leagues was any­thing but smooth.

On May 22, 2014, dur­ing his ju­nior sea­son at the Univer­sity of Texas, Peters felt el­bow pain, which led to Tommy John surgery. He went from be­ing an ex­pected sec­ond- or third-round pick in that sum­mer’s draft down to the 10th round, where the Mar­lins drafted him.

His left-handed arm was so lively — sit­ting at 89, 90 mph and able to get to 92, 93 — that scouts passed over the fact he was 5foot-9. There are dura­bil­ity ques­tions with pitch­ers un­der 6 feet, but it didn’t seem to mat­ter with Peters.

Peters fi­nally got into pro ball on July 9, 2015. He was mak­ing his way through the mi­nors when more calamity hit April 17 this sea­son. In his third start, a come­backer off the bat tore into his left hand.

Peters has four screws and a plate holding his thumb in place. He did not pitch again un­til July 5. He came back much ear­lier than ex­pected to AA due to that curve­ball, mound pres­ence and com­mand of a good fast­ball.

“The first time I played catch with it I could throw it in the gen­eral area I wanted to throw it at,” Peters said. “It was nice to feel it come off my hand, spin it nice. It felt like a fast­ball com­ing out of my hand, it looked like a fast­ball com­ing out of my hand. I just kind of had good feel from it.”

So when he goes 2 balls, 2 strikes against a No. 3, No. 4 hit­ter, and there are run­ners on base, Peters has a trump card.

“Any time I have been in trou­ble, last year, or early this year, and I need to hunt soft con­tact or swing and miss, that curve­ball is there,” he said. “I can back it up in front of the plate, I can throw it off the plate. It’s kind of nice to just have it.”

Peters is adding some base­ball IQ to the mix as well.

“I tried to get re­ally good at read­ing swings and try­ing to help my­self not give up eight-run in­nings,” he said. “It helps if you can read a swing from the mound. It makes it eas­ier read­ing from a dugout point of view when some­body else is pitch­ing so you have an idea go­ing into it.”

By the time you get around to talk­ing about his height, Peters has touched on sub­jects more rel­e­vant, as far as he is con­cerned: The curve­ball, his in­juries, his quick rise to the ma­jor leagues ...

“The height?” he said. He shrugs. “It’s kind of a re­dun­dant ques­tion.”

The re­turn of Peters’ curve­ball, in a man­ner of speak­ing, is a much big­ger story for him and the Mar­lins.

STEVE MITCHELL STEVE MITCHELL/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Mar­lins star­ing pitcher Dil­lon Peters tosses to first base against the Phillies at Mar­lins Park on Sept. 1.

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