Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his first major league home run and Daniel Murphy made two key plays in the ninth inning but the big story from Monday night was the performance of Mike Pelfrey. At first glance that might seem odd, as Pelfrey gave up 10 hits and three runs and needed help to finish six innings. But it was still an encouraging outing from a guy that the Mets need a big year from if they have any hope of challenging for a playoff spot.
Pelfrey was brutal through most of Spring Training before posting solid starts his last two outings. Still, he finished with a 7.62 ERA, which had many fans calling for the team to release him, especially once they found out that the club would not have to pay him the full value of his contract.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and Pelfrey took the mound in the fourth game of the season. The game didn’t start well for either Pelfrey or the Mets, and they were down for the first time all season. After allowing two runs in the third inning, the Mets were on the wrong end of a 3-0 score. But Pelfrey added 2.2 scoreless innings and the Mets offense rallied to tie the game by the time he departed.
That’s all well and good, you might think, but where’s the good news?
According to Brooks Baseball, Pelfrey threw 50 sinkers with an average speed of 93.63 for the game. If Pelfrey is going to establish himself as an above-average pitcher, the only way he can do that is by pounding hitters with his sinker, keeping the ball in the park and getting lots of ground ball outs. Both the number of sinkers he threw (50 of 104) and the velocity are encouraging signs for his success.
Pelfrey tied a career-high with eight strikeouts, with five of those coming via the sinker, usually not thought of as a great strikeout pitch. He recorded two other whiffs with his slider and one compliments of his four-seam fastball.
When batters did hit the ball, 58.8 percent of them were ground balls. Pelfrey’s batted ball breakdown was as follows:
GB – 10
FB – 4
LD – 3
That’s exactly the type of breakdown Pelfrey needs to be successful. Yes the Nationals got 10 hits in the game. They also had a .556 BABIP which simply will not hold up over the long haul. Mets fans should be ecstatic about this performance.
Pelfrey got grounders, he got strikeouts, he did not give up a HR and he allowed just one walk. I will gladly sign on the dotted line for this type of performance for the rest of the year.
And it would be a giant oversight not to mention Pelfrey’s performance with the bat. While he’s not the worst-hitting pitcher in Mets’ history (hi Mark Clark), Pelfrey came in with a .097/.146/.112 slash line in 297 PA. So it was quite a shock when he played a key role in the Mets’ first run. Pelfrey led off the third inning with a double and came around to score on a single to left by David Wright. It was just the fifth double of Pelfrey’s MLB career.
It was great to see Johan Santana give a strong first start. It was fun to see Jonathon Niese challenge for a no-hitter. But Pelfrey’s performance last night might have been the most important pitching outing we have seen for the Mets in the young season. Those who look past his BABIP-driven ERA will see that this was everything we need to see for Pelfrey to be a successful pitcher in 2012.