March 29, 2012; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey (34) pitches during a spring training game against the Houston Astros at Digital Domain Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Pelfrey Needs to Come Up Big Tonight

Saying that Mike Pelfrey has pressure on him tonight for his first start of the season against the Nats may be the understatement of the century. As the Mets continued to sweep the Braves with solid pitching performances, the microscope is now being focused ever so closely on the six-year MLB pitcher. There were rumors flying by the end of Spring Training that his poor performance would lead to his outright release because management felt that he wouldn’t be worth the $5.68 million he’s due in 2012. Just how bad was his spring in Port St. Lucie? It was all but sunny:

1-2 record, 7.62 ERA, 26 innings pitched, 33 hits, 5 home runs, 6 walks, 1.50 WHIP

Throughout his six Spring Training starts, opposing batters hit Pelfrey at a healthy .303 clip. He didn’t even look remotely impressive until one of his last starts against the Houston Astros, when he finally got into some sort of a groove towards the second half of his start. Even then, he was pitching to the Astros B-squad. Since Houston is projected to be one of the worst teams in the league this year, saying that Pelfrey dominated Astros backups is like congratulating a student for almost passing a class.

With young pitchers, it’s a delicate process before everything “clicks.” I mean, it took Sandy Kaufax six years before he became the dominant, Hall of Fame pitcher that we all know today. While watching Jonathon Nieseon the mound yesterday, Ron Darling was talking about this possibly being the year that the southpaw puts everything together, when his physical skills and mental preparation

meet, giving him the success the front office believes he can achieve. For Pelfrey, who the Mets drafted 9th overall in the 2005 amateur draft, the organization is still waiting for him to find himself.

The 2008 season was his first full year as a starter for New York, starting 32 games and compiling a 13-11 with a 3.72 ERA. Fans were excited to see him continue to rise to become the ace that he was supposed to be. However, 2009 was a tough year (as it was for every Met), to the tune of a 10-12 record and a 5.03 ERA. After bouncing back in 2010 with 15 wins and a 3.66 ERA, people associated with the organization thought their former first round pick “clicked,” until he took a big step back last year.

Even though a solid bounce back season would continue Pelfrey’s up-and-down trend throughout his career, this seems to be his last chance to stick around with the Mets. Scott Boras is his agent, so there is no doubt that Sandy Alderson has that thought in the back of his mind. The three game sweep of the Braves this weekend was a pleasant surprise for fans, giving us renewed optimism. Even if New York drops the first game against Washington tonight, he needs to throw 5-6 solid innings. Not for the front office, for the coaching staff, or for the fans, but for himself.

Pelfrey having a positive future with the Mets starts tonight, and it starts inside of him. He needs dig deep within himself to come up big in front of the home crowd because that will give him the confidence he needs to start pitching to his ability this year and beyond. Which Big Pelf will we get tonight? Time will tell. Let’s hope we see the 2010 version, a ground ball machine.

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Tags: 2012 MLB Opening Day Houston Astros Jonathon Niese Mike Pelfrey New York Mets Sandy Kaufax Washington Nationals

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