NEW YORK — The day that Brad Peacock became a pitcher was almost by mistake. It was by chance — on a day that his high school team had a pitching coach visiting, Peacock asked his coach if he could give it a try.
“You might as well,” the coach told Brad, the way his father, Jerry Peacock, remembered it. “Everybody else thinks he can pitch.”
The line, dripping with sarcasm when it was delivered to the then-third baseman, was immediately found not to apply to Peacock. He, in fact, could pitch — or at least he had an arm live enough to retain a lot of potential.
Five years later, Peacock proved that not only can he throw even better than he did back then, but along the way he’s also learned how to pitch. In five scoreless innings at Citi Field, Peacock kept the New York Mets at bay and earned his first major league victory. The 2-0 Nationals win, their 70th of the season, pushed them into a tie for third place in the National League East with the Mets.
“He always had the stuff,” said closer Drew Storen, who played with Peacock in the low minor leagues. Storen also put on a high-wire act with Peacock’s win by walking the first two hitters he faced in the ninth and needed a highlight-reel diving catch by Rick Ankiel to escape.
“I don’t necessarily remember him pitching as well. He’s got the same stuff that he did, but to come out there and throw consistently like he did for five innings is extremely impressive.”
They were five innings that began with three nearly flawless frames, Peacock firing fastballs in the 92-94-mph range, dropping in curveballs on the edges and using his changeup effectively and down in the strike zone. Two hits, a single to centerfield by Ruben Tejeda and another to left field by Jason Bay were the only contact made by New York’s hitters that didn’t turn into outs. The righty also issued three walks and had two strikeouts.
“I was really impressed with this kid tonight,” said catcher Jesus Flores, catching Peacock for the first time. “He’s got a lot of movement on that ball.”
It wasn’t a performance necessarily befitting a 23-year-old making his first major league start, one filled with what several teammates noted was an advanced maturity in his approach. But after his debut last week in which he gave up four hits and one run in relief — and began it with two men on and Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp standing at the plate — a Wednesday night in New York was cake.
“I told him before, ‘You already had the seventh game of the World Series,’” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “‘It should be downhill from here on in.’ And he approached it like he was going downhill. He was pretty much fully in command.”
Deep breaths and a confidence helped Peacock breeze through the Mets’ lineup the first time around. Bouoyed by back-to-back RBI singles by Michael Morse and Jayson Werth in the third, he carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning. Tejada’s single broke things up, sandwiched between 11 outs in the air, including three that didn’t make it out of the infield.
That number even surprised Peacock, who had been a ground ball pitcher throughout his minor league career up to this season. But he was just as happy to get a harmless pop up when he faced Josh Satin, a familiar foe from the minor leagues, with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth inning.
“I knew I had to be smart,” Peacock said. “I threw him a good changeup and fortunately he popped it up.”
Moments after Ankiel’s diving catch in left center field secured Peacock’s first major league victory — and with his parents, Jerry and Jay, and nephew, Aiden, in the stands — Peacock was finally able to reflect on this year’s leg of his journey. Five years ago, he was a third baseman. Five months ago, he was pitching in Double-A. Wednesday night, he was a major league winner. In a few more months’ time, he could be calling himself a member of the Nationals’ major league rotation.
“I’m not ruling anything out,” Johnson said. “But there’s a lot of guys who are competing for that job and he’s one of them.”
He’ll most likely get one more start, next week when the Nationals are in Philadelphia, before he’s either relegated to the bullpen or shut down for the year. Either way, he’s made an impression.
“This is what you work for,” Peacock said. “You don’t want to stay down there in the minors. You want to work to get up here. That’s all I did, all season, was work to get up here. It paid off this year.”