The Milwaukee Brewers will send rookie right-hander Ariel Pena to the mound tonight, starting Wednesday's game against the Miami Marlins. This will be Pena's first major league start, though he already collected his first Show victory with three innings of relief work in his first big league appearance against the Cincinnati Reds on September 5th. Here's a quick scoop on this rather interesting prospect.
Pena was originally signed by the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent from the Dominican Republic back in 2007. He came to the Brewers as part of the summer 2012 Zack Greinke trade. Pena pitched in Double-A in 2013 (3.73 ERA, 131/79 K/BB in 142 innings) then in Triple-A in 2014 (4.56 ERA, 140/75 in 128 innings), showing impressive velocity but struggling at times with his command.
The Brewers moved Pena to the bullpen in Triple-A to open 2015 with spotty results: a 5.16 ERA in 52 innings with a 50/23 K/BB. Towards the end of July Pena moved back into a starting role and suddenly started throwing strikes, resulting in a 2.37 ERA in 30 innings as a starter in July and August, with a 33/9 K/BB over that stretch. Pena's sudden performance burst earned him a September trial.
There's never been any doubt about Pena's arm strength: he has hit 98 MPH in short stretches and is consistently in the 92-94 range. He's made strides commanding his slider and it is a considerably better than it was two years ago. His change-up is inconsistent but made enough progress for the Brewers to give him another look as a starter.
Basically it all comes down to command for Pena. When he's right he has three quality major league pitches and can be overpowering. When he's wrong, he loses the touch with the slider and change-up, gets behind in the count, and gets hit hard. His fastball is a good pitch but it is not an outstanding one and he needs the other offerings to enhance the heat.
His late run for Colorado Springs shows what he is capable of when everything is in gear. Will he be in gear tonight? We'll have to see, but usually it becomes very obvious early in the game which version of Pena is on the mound.