Warne: Mike Pelfrey, post-TJ, didn't see early-season shelling coming
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MINNEAPOLIS -- All Mike Pelfrey knew was that he felt fine.
But as he struggled through the first two months of the season for the Minnesota Twins, he couldn't help but wonder if he had come back too quickly.
On May 1, his ERA stood at 7.66. On June 1, exactly a run lower. By that point, he had just two quality starts.
"Obviously I've struggled for most of the first two months," Pelfrey said. "If I would have known it was going to go like that, I probably would have waited instead of trying to come back like I did."
There are no guarantees in baseball, and Pelfrey knows that. Just as easily, his struggles could have just been what he'd have had to go through as part of a comeback from Tommy John surgery, and he knows it.
"But that's not to say that I wouldn't have started here in June and had the same thing, you know?" Pelfrey said. "I could have had the same thing I had in April."
But Pelfrey has said time, and time, and time again that he felt fine. As a pitcher missing extensive time for the first time in his career, he didn't really know what to expect.
"Physically, health-wise it has never been an issue," Pelfrey said. "I worked my tail off to come back."
But the challenges of missing nearly a year of action are unique, even to someone who plays baseball professionally.
"It's almost like -- when you're out of the game for a year -- you have to re-learn how to pitch," Pelfrey said. "I remember in spring training having to cover first base, and I was like 'Oh man, you've gotta get over there.' You just forget. And it's crazy, because you play baseball for a living. Being away from the game, there's so many things you have to pick back up."
With almost a full year off, it comes as little surprise Pelfrey -- who is admittedly an extremely impatient guy -- pushed so hard to get back.
But Pelfrey said that he feels he's getting better, and the stats back it up.
Over his last three starts, Pelfrey has allowed three earned runs in each, for a 4.34 ERA which is downright heavenly compared to his early season line. In fact, though he currently has a 6.12 ERA, he carries a FIP of 4.20 (ERA normalized for peripheral stats). In other words, with a bit better luck, he could be right up there with Kevin Correia ERA-wise.
Pelfrey attributes the improvement to better command, especially with his breaking balls, compared to where he was at to start the season. "It's weird," Pelfrey said, "But early in the year, when I threw a curveball or slider, I didn't feel it off the end of my fingers. It was tough."
So while Pelfrey was keenly aware that he was struggling, he was in a manner of speaking helpless as he waited for the feel to come back. "I would say to myself that I knew I had to be better than that, and I needed to fix it," Pelfrey said. "But I didn't really know how to fix it, because I couldn't really necessarily feel it, you know?"
But that feel came back to Pelfrey sometime in the past two weeks, most likely on the most recent road trip.
"Starting about two weeks ago, I threw in the pen and I said "OK, there it is." I could feel the ball off the end of my fingertips. That was huge. And I feel it's there a bit more every day."
Pelfrey said it didn't immediately translate to in-game, but it wasn't far behind. "I started to get a feel for that -- especially last time out -- and I threw another good bullpen the other day - maybe the best I've thrown this season -- and I still had that feel," Pelfrey said. "I felt that was maybe the last thing I was missing. Hopefully it will continue to get better."
Pelfrey said he truly felt that was where he struggled most the first two months, and that he'd been told feel and command would be the last two things to come back.
"I remember Joe (Mauer) came to me (during a recent start) and said, 'You've gotta keep throwing it. I know you can't find it right now, but you're going to find it. Keep throwing it.' And I kept throwing it, and about the fourth inning I said, 'OK, there it is.'"
Pelfrey noted that he really needs his entire repertoire working in order for him to pitch his game. As a non-strikeout type - and he certainly qualifies with a career strikeout rate of 5.1 batters per 9 innings - Pelfrey relies on throwing pitches on different planes and with different trajectories to keep hitters off balance.
"The curve and slider I have going away from the right-handed hitter, while the sinker and splitter come in," Pelfrey said. "By having command of them all, it just gives them a different look, and keeps them honest on both sides of the plate."
The Twins would certainly have plenty to gain from a renewed Pelfrey, who was at one-time a 15-game winner for the Mets in a season which he sported a 3.66 ERA. And it wasn't that long ago, coming in 2010.
So it's not just Pelfrey, who is on a one-year deal, who stands to benefit from a strong summer run.