Mike Pelfrey: New York Mets Pitcher Looking to Regain Form

I really want Mike Pelfrey to do well. My will for him to succeed is greater than it is for any other Met. I realize Jose Reyes is probably more important to the team winning games, and in the end, that’s all I really care about. But I’ve been following Big Pelf’s career in a unique way, and take a special pride in watching him pitch well.

I was at Shea Stadium on July 8, 2006 when the 22-year-old Pelfrey made his major league debut in the second game of a doubleheader against the Florida Marlins. He was the No. 9 overall draft pick the year before, so Mets fans knew his name and were expecting big things.

Pelfrey’s first inning wasn’t exactly awe-inspiring. The first hitter he faced singled and stole second; Pelf hit a batter. But he also retired two of the best hitters in baseball — striking out Hanley Ramirez and getting Miguel Cabrera to ground into a double play to end the inning.

By the time Pelfrey stepped back on the mound, the Mets were up 5-0 thanks to a grand slam by Jose Valentin (who would nearly hit another the next inning, settling for a three-run triple). Pelf would finish his day after going five innings and allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits. He walked four and struck out three, to go along with his hit batter and wild pitch.

Pelfrey got the win thanks to 17 runs of support (16 while Pelf was pitching), and the Mets beat the Marlins — or should I say the Jets beat the Dolphins? — 17-3. (Interesting note: Pelf has not beaten the Fish since; 1-6 in 11 starts with a 5.79 ERA.)

I remember expecting more strikeouts (perhaps a sign of things to come) and that he couldn’t throw his curveball for a strike, but you can’t be too critical of a player’s debut.

Pelfrey made three more starts for New York that season, but the 2006 Mets were not a team fit for a developing rookie — they had a division to win and an epic League Championship Series to play.

Pelf started the 2007 season with the big league club, but would be demoted and recalled twice during the year. He started 15 games that season, and I was at Shea for three of his outings, including his first appearance in relief. I remember going to a game on a Friday night against the Brewers with my friend John, then deciding to stay at my brother’s place in the city and go to the game the following afternoon. All of us were mad because Pelfrey was scheduled to pitch that day, so we likely wouldn’t see a second straight win (sure enough, the Mets lost 12-3). In fact, the Mets were 0-3 in the Pelfrey games I saw that year. He finished the season 3-8 with a 5.57 ERA.

A young Pelf, back in the days when he wore a mouth piece
and chewed on it incessantly while on the mound. (Credit:
Wknight94)

The 2008 season was a different story and fans started to see why Pelf was such a high draft choice. He won 13 games and sported a 3.72 ERA. My attitude about showing up at Shea for his starts changed dramatically.

I saw him pitch four times in ’08 and while the Mets only won two of those games, Pelf had some memorable performances. In May, he took a no-hitter into the seventh against Washington but lost the game 1-0. He threw seven shutout innings against the Giants in July. And in August, I was in the stands for Pelfrey’s first complete game, a three-hitter against the Braves.

The following year I was at the first game in Citi Field, when Pelf’s third pitch to leadoff batter Jody Gerut cleared the wall in right field. Perhaps it was another sign of things to come, as 2009 was supposed to be Pelfrey’s breakout year. Instead, he regressed, posting a sub-.500 record and a 5.03 ERA.

I was at Pelf’s fine performance against the Yankees at Citi in May, as well as his blow-up against the Reds earlier this month. All in all I’ve seen Pelf pitch in person 14 times (13 starts). I’m nearly certain I haven’t seen any other starting pitcher more than that. But as I’ve noted, it’s not just quantity, it’s importance. I’ve witnessed some of Pelfrey’s historic starts. If you asked Pelfrey right now which big league starts he remembers most, I’d guess the debut, Citi Field opener (even if he doesn’t want to remember that one), and his first complete game would be right up there.

He’s a home-grown product, a much-hyped first-round pick with loads of potential. After starting this year 10-2 and looking like an All-Star Game snub, Pelfrey is winless in his last five starts. His ERA has ballooned from 2.71 to an even four. The sponsor of Pelfrey’s Baseball Reference page chose to write, “Is 2010 the year that Mike Pelfrey realizes his potential?” Many thought the answer would be yes, but this latest string of poor outings is leaving plenty of doubts.

When he makes his start tonight against the Arizona Diamondbacks, I won’t be in attendance, but like many Mets fans I will be watching. I’ll just feel like I have a little more stake in his performance.

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