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Updated: February 24th, 2013 4:17pm
Spring Observations: Mike Pelfreyā€™s aggressive rehab working so far

Spring Observations: Mike Pelfreyā€™s aggressive rehab working so far

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- By all accounts, through the first two weeks of spring training, it's difficult to find a player in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse who is receiving more praise than right-hander Mike Pelfrey.

Both for his personality and his speedy recovery from Tommy John surgery to this point.

To the personality, one teammate described Pelfrey as being "like Jim Thome nice." Right-hander and top pitching prospect Alex Meyer, when asked which teammate he has learned the most from so far in camp, immediately said Pelfrey.

Being a nice guy is a worthy quality, and it's a quality the Twins tend to gravitate toward, but getting outs is more important. Pelfrey, when healthy, has been able to get outs in the National League, posting sub-4.00 ERAs twice in his last four healthy seasons (and sub-4.00 FIPs too). He doesn't strike out many hitters, but he owns a career groundball rate near 50%, which is well above league average.

Pelfrey can be valuable, and he can eat upwards of 200 innings if he is healthy. Most Tommy John recoveries take at least 12 months, so in order to be healthy in time for the start of the regular season -- 11 months form his surgery date -- Pelfrey pushed the envelope.

The 29-year-old underwent surgery on May 1 of last year, and at first he followed the standard rehab schedule, not throwing at all for four months. After four months, the schedule instructs recovering pitchers to throw on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and to take every weekend off for seven months.

But that plan wasn't aggressive enough for Pelfrey, who has been throwing with zero restrictions so far in Fort Myers.

"I figured if I took every weekend off for seven months, I was basically costing myself a month of rehab. So I threw every weekend too... Right from the get-go. ...

"Dr. (James) Andrews said, 'Your elbow will let you know if you're pushing it too much.' But I never felt anything."

People who have watched Pelfrey throw bullpens and live batting practice say the ball is down, with good downward movement. Word is his command has been solid too, although the true test will come in the actual games. Pelfrey is scheduled to pitch on Tuesday in Dunedin against the Toronto Blue Jays in what will be his first live game action since the surgery.

Command is usually one of the last things that comes around for pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery. Joe Nathan was a great example of this last season.

Pelfrey's one-year contract will pay him $4 million, with some incentives. Because of his age, 29, and his contract status, Pelfrey can afford to be more aggressive in his attempt to get back from the surgery. He likely wants a multi-year deal after 2013, and the Twins want someone who can pitch effectively and eat innings right now, so they won't object to the more aggressive schedule.

This is a different approach than for, say, Kyle Gibson, who is now 18 months removed from surgery. The Twins, and Gibson, are better served making sure the 25-year-old is healthy for the next six years, many of which he will be under team control at reasonable salaries.

Diamond satisfied for now

Scott Diamond, coming off clean-up elbow surgery, is pleased with how his first mound work has gone to this point. He will continue his mound sessions this week, but the Twins have no desire to rush the timetable. There's still a good chance Diamond won't be ready by the first week of April.

Diamond noticed something was amiss with his elbow when the joint kept locking up on him during the early stages of winter. He said he knew it wasn't anything serious because there was no ligament pain.

The December clean-up surgery was Diamond's first elbow procedure.

Cuddyer vouching for Roenicke

The Twins claimed reliever Josh Roenicke off waivers from the Colorado Rockies on Nov. 2, and the right-hander has a reasonable chance to earn one of a small handful of open bullpen spots on the 25-man roster.

Shortly after the Twins made their acquisition of Roenicke official, Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer texted a couple of his former Twins teammates to offer compliments about Roenicke as a pitcher and as a person.

Roenicke, 30, posted a 3.25 ERA with 54 strikeouts, 43 walks and nine home runs allowed in 88 2/3 innings last season.

The Rockies went to a hybrid, four-man rotation for a period last summer, with four additional pitchers handcuffed to the four starters. So, for instance, one starter would pitch four or five innings, then Roenicke would come in and pitch two or three innings.

Roenicke's average fastball sits between 92 and 93 mph. Earlier in his career, when he was pitching one inning at a time, Roenicke struck out more than a batter per inning in a number of different seasons.

Over/under 64.5?

I notified a few players this morning about certain sportsbooks in Las Vegas setting the Twins' over/under win total at 64.5.

Most of them looked back in bewilderment.

"Really?" one player said. "Isn't that like Astros territory?"

Well, not quite. The Astros have lost 107 and 106 games the last two seasons. They haven't won 90 games since 2004.

That's not to say players in the clubhouse aren't realistic about the state of a team that has lost nearly 200 games the last two seasons. But most believe true progress is on the horizon.

Gibson hitting 96 mph?

The Hammond Stadium radar gun has been accused of exaggeration a few times previously, so take it with a grain of salt that Kyle Gibson was clocked at 96 on one pitch in Sunday's game against the Rays.

"Oh, my god," Gibson said. "I think they got a JUGS gun in the stadium."

Quick hits

• SiriusXM was in the house on Sunday, devoting most of their morning coverage to the Twins, as they do with every team at least once during spring training.

• LHP Caleb Thielbar got hit around a little bit in Sunday morning's intrasquad game. Thielbar is in the mix to be the Twins' third left-handed reliever behind Glen Perkins and Brian Duensing. One of his main competitors, lefty Tyler Robertson, gave up a two-run bomb in Sarasota on Saturday.

• GM Terry Ryan said the only concern about 13 players leaving for the World Baseball Classic next week is catchers Joe Mauer and Drew Butera not getting as much time to work with the new pitchers.

• Aaron Hicks made a slick, shoe-string, sliding catch on a fly ball to shallow centerfield in the first inning of Sunday's spring home opener. Shortly after, right fielder Chris Parmelee made a running catch near the fence in foul territory. There are no questions about Hicks' range in center, but Josh Willingham and Parmelee don't cover much ground in the corners, so it was probably encouraging for the Twins to see Parmelee make a difficult catch.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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