Marlins’ Peters finds curve, then spot in bigs
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.
Marlins staring pitcher Dillon Peters tosses to first base against the Phillies at Marlins Park on Sept. 1.