In shape and on target: Pelfrey a bright spot for Mets

To erase the disappointment of a lousy 2009, Mets righthander Mike Pelfrey had to do something.

"Last year got to the point where baseball stopped being fun," says Pelfrey, who had a 5.03 ERA and averaged fewer than six innings in 31 starts. "When the offseason came, my response was, ‘I can’t go through that again. What do I have to do to get better?’ "

First step: "I told myself I was going to lose 20 pounds." At 6-7, 250, Pelfrey wasn’t exactly Pablo Sandoval-like, but after a season in which "I didn’t achieve any of my goals," he viewed losing weight as a goal as much as a way to improve his fitness.

"To set your mind to something and be able to achieve it builds confidence," he says.

Mike Pelfrey lost more than 20 pounds during the offseason.
Mike Pelfrey lost more than 20 pounds during the offseason.

After taking off a month, Pelfrey headed to the YMCA near his home in Wichita, Kan. Two months of pickup basketball and twice-weekly, hour-long swims, along with "eating right for the first time in my life," helped drop his weight below 230. One goal was met. The real objective of turning around his season — his career, really — awaited.

Three weeks into the 2010 season, he is meeting his other goal, too. Pelfrey is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and will take a 19-inning scoreless streak into his next start (Sunday against the Braves). The last-place Mets have had a multitude of problems, but Pelfrey hasn’t been one of them.

"He’s confident and in control," manager Jerry Manuel told reporters after Pelfrey beat the Cubs in his most recent outing. Manuel added that Pelfrey, 26, is pitching his best since running off a 17-inning scoreless streak in July 2008.

The early success has been about more than a successful diet. Pelfrey also devoted his offseason to improving his secondary pitches, including a split-finger fastball that has come a long way in a short time. "That’s the secondary pitch I’ve been missing," he says. "I owe (pitching coach) Dan Warthen a lot of credit for that."

Before spring training, Pelfrey tested the splitter on players at his old school, Wichita State, and left for Florida feeling good about it. He was not deterred even though he was banged around in spring training for 37 hits, including eight homers, in 26 1/3 innings.

"Everybody was making a big deal out of it, but I threw my secondary stuff (which also includes a slider and curve) more than I threw my fastball at times, which I had never done," says Pelfrey, whose best pitch remains a power sinker. "I felt the ball was coming out of my hand great and I could feel my confidence in the secondary pitches growing."

Another change in Pelfrey has been as obvious as his improved numbers. He is working with a purpose, not wandering around the mound between pitches like he’d rather be shooting hoops in Wichita.

"Last year was not the kind of year I wanted to have, but it happened," he says. "After going through that, I’m better prepared to handle adversity. I feel like I’m a lot more in control when I’m on the mound. I have a clear head and that allows me to execute a pitch and worry about that instead of something else."

While Pelfrey clearly is pleased with his April, 30-plus starts remain on his docket if all goes well. How he handles a bad outing also will determine how much he has changed. He took his struggles home in the past to the point where "I would not talk to my wife if I had a bad game because it ate me up inside."

After having a son last August, Pelfrey says he leaves the park these days with a new perspective. "When I go home, it’s family time," he says. "I’m going to sit and play with him after a bad game or a good game. He doesn’t care what happened. He’s smiling."

Dad has had just as much reason to smile so far this season.

THREE STRIKES

STRIKE 1: Carlos Zambrano wasn’t the only one surprised when Cubs manager Lou Piniella sent him to the bullpen. Said one scout: "Over (Tom) Gorzelanny? Hmm. That’s their decision. We’ll see how long it lasts."

STRIKE 2: After Zack Greinke’s first four starts last season, he was 4-0 with two complete games and a 0.00 ERA. After four this season: 0-2 with no complete games and a 3.28 ERA. But don’t worry. "His stuff is the same," says a scout who has seen him pitch. "I just don’t look for him to have that kind of dominating season this year. That’s not easy to do." One thing that hasn’t changed is Greinke’s lack of support. He left both of his no-decisions with a lead.

STRIKE 3: What do Prince Fielder, Carlos Lee, David Ortiz, Jason Bay, Brandon Inge, Ben Zobrist and Adam LaRoche have in common? Each hit at least 25 homers last season but went into Thursday’s action still looking for No. 1 this season.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

To erase the disappointment of a lousy 2009, Mets righthander Mike Pelfrey had to do something.

"Last year got to the point where baseball stopped being fun," says Pelfrey, who had a 5.03 ERA and averaged fewer than six innings in 31 starts. "When the offseason came, my response was, ‘I can’t go through that again. What do I have to do to get better?’ "

First step: "I told myself I was going to lose 20 pounds." At 6-7, 250, Pelfrey wasn’t exactly Pablo Sandoval-like, but after a season in which "I didn’t achieve any of my goals," he viewed losing weight as a goal as much as a way to improve his fitness.

"To set your mind to something and be able to achieve it builds confidence," he says.

Mike Pelfrey lost more than 20 pounds during the offseason.
Mike Pelfrey lost more than 20 pounds during the offseason.

After taking off a month, Pelfrey headed to the YMCA near his home in Wichita, Kan. Two months of pickup basketball and twice-weekly, hour-long swims, along with "eating right for the first time in my life," helped drop his weight below 230. One goal was met. The real objective of turning around his season — his career, really — awaited.

Three weeks into the 2010 season, he is meeting his other goal, too. Pelfrey is 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA and will take a 19-inning scoreless streak into his next start (Sunday against the Braves). The last-place Mets have had a multitude of problems, but Pelfrey hasn’t been one of them.

"He’s confident and in control," manager Jerry Manuel told reporters after Pelfrey beat the Cubs in his most recent outing. Manuel added that Pelfrey, 26, is pitching his best since running off a 17-inning scoreless streak in July 2008.

The early success has been about more than a successful diet. Pelfrey also devoted his offseason to improving his secondary pitches, including a split-finger fastball that has come a long way in a short time. "That’s the secondary pitch I’ve been missing," he says. "I owe (pitching coach) Dan Warthen a lot of credit for that."

Before spring training, Pelfrey tested the splitter on players at his old school, Wichita State, and left for Florida feeling good about it. He was not deterred even though he was banged around in spring training for 37 hits, including eight homers, in 26 1/3 innings.

"Everybody was making a big deal out of it, but I threw my secondary stuff (which also includes a slider and curve) more than I threw my fastball at times, which I had never done," says Pelfrey, whose best pitch remains a power sinker. "I felt the ball was coming out of my hand great and I could feel my confidence in the secondary pitches growing."

Another change in Pelfrey has been as obvious as his improved numbers. He is working with a purpose, not wandering around the mound between pitches like he’d rather be shooting hoops in Wichita.

"Last year was not the kind of year I wanted to have, but it happened," he says. "After going through that, I’m better prepared to handle adversity. I feel like I’m a lot more in control when I’m on the mound. I have a clear head and that allows me to execute a pitch and worry about that instead of something else."

While Pelfrey clearly is pleased with his April, 30-plus starts remain on his docket if all goes well. How he handles a bad outing also will determine how much he has changed. He took his struggles home in the past to the point where "I would not talk to my wife if I had a bad game because it ate me up inside."

After having a son last August, Pelfrey says he leaves the park these days with a new perspective. "When I go home, it’s family time," he says. "I’m going to sit and play with him after a bad game or a good game. He doesn’t care what happened. He’s smiling."

Dad has had just as much reason to smile so far this season.

THREE STRIKES

STRIKE 1: Carlos Zambrano wasn’t the only one surprised when Cubs manager Lou Piniella sent him to the bullpen. Said one scout: "Over (Tom) Gorzelanny? Hmm. That’s their decision. We’ll see how long it lasts."

STRIKE 2: After Zack Greinke’s first four starts last season, he was 4-0 with two complete games and a 0.00 ERA. After four this season: 0-2 with no complete games and a 3.28 ERA. But don’t worry. "His stuff is the same," says a scout who has seen him pitch. "I just don’t look for him to have that kind of dominating season this year. That’s not easy to do." One thing that hasn’t changed is Greinke’s lack of support. He left both of his no-decisions with a lead.

STRIKE 3: What do Prince Fielder, Carlos Lee, David Ortiz, Jason Bay, Brandon Inge, Ben Zobrist and Adam LaRoche have in common? Each hit at least 25 homers last season but went into Thursday’s action still looking for No. 1 this season.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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