Mike Pelfrey was ready. His surgically repaired elbow felt strong, everything was coming out of his hands better than expected and the Minnesota Twins had him ahead on schedule.
The team wasn’t just expecting him to have a good spring and compete for a spot in the starting rotation, either. Pelfrey wanted to be an anchor by Opening Day and said all the right things about how it was going to happen that way.
Then he stepped on the mound against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday and got a different message.
Though we’ve all heard the line about Spring Training results being irrelevant to the big picture, it’s difficult to think that Pelfrey’s outing was what the big righty wanted for a first impression. He was hit hard from the get-go, giving up hits to three of his first four batters, including a two-run home run to Adam Lind that put him down 0-3 with just an out.
The 29-year-old did get a couple of batters looking at strike three back-to-back, but he did not make it out of the second inning, leaving the game with two outs and a runner at first base.
Now, ultimately, the result of the game doesn’t really matter, but that Pelfrey didn’t location the pitches like he wanted probably says a little bit about the optimistic timetable for his regular season readiness.
Still, he did throw 22 of 32 pitches for strikes on the day, so at least wildness wasn’t an issue, even if he couldn’t really keep the ball down.
So, there are a couple of ways to go from here.
One is that you can look at the outing in a way that gives Pelfrey credit to be even pitching in game situations at this point, especially considering that he’s ahead of the usual Tommy John recovery schedule. That would certainly be valid and Pelfrey’s progress will likely mean a few mulligans will be needed along the way.
On the other hand, that’s a slippery slope, isn’t it? Bad spring starts and mulligans might be expected, but ultimately, so are results. In the end, the Twins aren’t going to wait around for Pelfrey indefinitely if he continues not to have his low-90s velocity, or command of his pitches as the season gets underway.
There is an impetus for progress, and while most will understandably be happy wipe this start from memory, the right-hander is here to prepare to do a job and he will eventually have to show signs that he can get towards being able to do it effectively.
It didn’t happen on Tuesday, but both Pelfrey and the Twins will certainly be looking for it in his next outing.