- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2017

In 2006, the Washington Nationals drafted right-handed pitcher Brad Peacock with the expectation that he would one day become an integral piece of a playoff-contending starting rotation.

Fast forward to 2017, and Peacock has become precisely that. It’s just that he’s now pitching for the Houston Astros, the front-runners in the American League pennant race.

Peacock, who was with the Astros on a three-game swing through Baltimore that ended Sunday, said he still keeps up with several people in the Nationals organization — the ones that are still left from his time, now half a decade ago, with the team.

“To tell you the truth, a lot of them are gone,” the 29-year old said. “But I saw a couple guys in spring training … I saw [Washington third base coach] Bobby Henley, he was my GCL coach. And I went golfing with Tanner Roark, he was one of my good buddies.”

Peacock made his major league debut in the September of 2011 for the Nationals, appearing in three games before being traded the following offseason to Oakland in the deal to acquire Gio Gonzalez.

The next offseason, he was traded again, this time from the Athletics to the Astros. Despite all this movement, Peacock still has a soft spot in his heart for his first team.

“Oh yeah, I keep up with those guys,” he said. “That’s the team that drafted me, and I owe them a lot. They’re a pretty good team. Good rotation, good lineup. Tough team.”

The same could be said of Peacock’s current team in Houston, which came in to Sunday’s game leading the AL West by 17 games with a 65-32 record.

Like the Nationals, the NL East leaders by 11 games, much of the Astros’ success can be traced back to their offensive firepower.

Washington has three players who are top-15 in the majors in OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage): right fielder Bryce Harper, third baseman Anthony Rendon, and second baseman Daniel Murphy.

The only other team with three such players? The Houston Astros, with second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa, and outfielder George Springer.

“It’s awesome,” Peacock said of pitching with so many great hitters behind him. “You just gotta try to keep the game close, you know they’re gonna score runs. You just gotta try to keep the game as close as you can. That lineup can put up eight runs in one inning. It’s a special lineup.”

With those big bats backing him up, Peacock has enjoyed a breakout season, already having set a new career high in wins with eight while maintaining a 2.49 ERA.

The secret to his personal success?

“Health,” Peacock says without hesitation. “I’ve had hip surgery and back surgery, and I’m just glad I came back from that. I just feel good every time out, that’s definitely the key.”

Peacock also credits a stint in the bullpen at the beginning of the season as a major factor in his improvement as a starting pitcher.

“I learned a lot in the bullpen,” he says. “Just how to attack guys, and trust in your stuff is the key. Learned a lot, brought it as a starter, and done well so far.”

• Josh Luckenbaugh can be reached at jluckenbaugh@washingtontimes.com.

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