For a handful of players from each team the Midwest League All Star Game is an opportunity to showcase their talents and celebrate their notable accomplishments in the first half. For the players who aren't selected, however, it's a welcome opportunity to take a few days off to rest and recuperate before playing 70 games in 75 days in the second half.
Timber Rattlers relief pitcher Michael Petersen was in the latter group, and his plans for the time off were pretty simple.
"Rest. I slept most of it," Petersen said.
Petersen got a little more rest over the first few games of the second half, as he wasn't called into a game for the first time until Saturday in Cedar Rapids. When he took the mound for the first time in seven days and just the second time in two weeks, however, keen observers were among the first to notice a change: His fastball, which usually sits around 95 mph, was clocking in at 97 and 98 on the stadium's radar gun. His teammates, who were operating another radar gun from the stands, later confirmed the uptick in his velocity.
"I think some of it was the fact that he'd had some days off," Timber Rattlers pitching coach Steve Cline said. "Not just from pitching, but we also had the All Star break in there. I think that break is good for guys that are experiencing their first full season. So you play through 70 games and you have a little three-day break and it gives you a chance to exhale a little bit, not pick up a baseball, and it's about time for you to do that. Not only that, but then also give your body just a complete rest so that your arm and your mind are rested from the daily routine of baseball by the gallons, if you will."
Petersen said he didn't notice the speed reading on the scoreboard while he was pitching, but teammates were still telling him about it two days later.
"Normally I don't want to look back. When you start trying to throw for a (radar) gun, then you end up hurting yourself or hurting the team," Petersen said.
Nonetheless, Petersen's uptick in velocity is the latest noteworthy accomplishment in a season that has already seen a few. First, he went unscored upon in each of his first five Midwest League outings, working 14 ⅔ innings across the month of April before allowing his first run in May. He picked up his first Midwest League win during the first week of June, and he's also approaching a career high in innings, throwing 40 out of the bullpen this season after going 46 ⅓ with Helena in 2017.
Petersen has followed an unusual path to Midwest League success: He was born in the United Kingdom but moved with his family to northern California when he was about a year old. He was drafted for the first time coming out of high school in 2012, but opted to go to Riverside Community College instead.
"My mom always said that the reason she came here was for a better education, so I was going to go to college," Petersen said. "I went the junior college route, hoping to better myself and keep all options open."
He didn't pitch much in his early collegiate seasons, battling through injuries and sitting out a redshirt year, but was still drafted again by the Rangers in 2013 and the Giants in 2014.
"Definitely some weirdness. I pitched good baseball in the fall or something," Petersen said.
The Brewers were the fourth different organization to draft Petersen when they selected him in the 17th round in 2015, and he made his professional debut with the Arizona League Brewers later that summer. Cline was his pitching coach at the time and one of his lasting memories of Petersen's early career was his surprising velocity.
"That's what made him so intriguing was the fact that he did have a fastball with some plus velocity that looked, from the side, like he wasn't throwing that hard. You'd see a lot of guys sit behind the plate with the guns and tap their gun to make sure it was working," Cline said. "You see a lot of guys that throw with that kind of velocity and there's a lot of effort. They're what I call grunting and snorting and breathing through their eyelids to do it. So you see a lot of effort. But with him when he first showed up, that wasn't the case."
Despite that arm strength, however, it took Petersen some time to find his way in professional baseball. He spent the full 2016 and 2017 seasons with Helena in the Pioneer League, where a very hitter-friendly environment and control issues led to some ugly numbers. With Wisconsin, however, his success has led to conversations among the coaching staff about finding ways to get him into games more often and in high leverage situations.
"We've had conversations along those lines about throwing a little more frequently, maybe not as long of stints. Maybe a little shorter stints, two innings each time he goes out so he gets the right days of rest and he gets to get back out there again," Cline said.
Pitching out of the bullpen is still a relatively new phenomenon for Petersen, who had started 17 of his 29 professional appearances prior to this season. He said the biggest things he's been proud of this year are the opportunities he's received to help the team and his teammates in that role.
"Pitching in the 'pen is not something I'm used to, but when you go out there and you're looking at your friend who just came off of pitching a good game, or even a bad game, and going, 'let me help this guy out. His day's going to be either great or bad or whatever's going on, let me help it become slightly better.' I think it's pretty exciting," Petersen said.
Meanwhile, Petersen continues to work on off-speed pitches to accompany his fastball and keep hitters off balance.
"They start catching up pretty quickly," Petersen said.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.