Pelfrey Holding the Ace

When Johan Santana went down for at least the first half of the regular season, there was only one guy the Mets to whom the Mets turned to assume the role of staff ace – Mike Pelfrey. The duty of taking the ball as the number one guy in the Mets' rotation now falls squarely on the former first round pick. Is he up to the challenge? Inside Pitch caught up with the right-hander to find out.

Mets fans have long wondered when the organization would produce its next ace. Entering 2011, Mets fans have their answer. With Johan Santana on the shelf until at least the end of June (though that date is far from concrete), the duties of staff ace now fall to Mike Pelfrey. The Mets' 2005 first round pick has officially become that homegrown ace many have wanted.

Patching together a starting rotation dominated much of the Mets offseason news, but with the organization's $100 million man out for half of the season, the club turns to Pelfrey to shoulder the load and set the tone for the rest of the rotation. It is not an overstatement to say that much of the Mets' fortunes in the first half will rise and fall with Pelfrey's success.

"I am just going to go out there, try to get zeros on the board and get people out," said Pelfrey as he prepared for spring training. "It's nice knowing going in what game you are going to start. I am going out there to compete up and put a lot of wins."

Pelfrey knows exactly what day he'll be taking the ball once camp breaks – Opening Day. He will do so coming off a 2010 season during which he went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA, 113 strikeouts, 68 walks and a 1.38 WHIP. Pelfrey cruised through the first three months of the 2010 season - the timespan he'll be heavily relied upon this season. However, the 27-year-old struggled in July, going 0-3 with a 10.02 ERA. It was something of a learning experience for him as he realized what he can and can't do on the mound.

"I think I learned a lot," he said. "I think I learned what makes me good, what makes me…me. I got away from my strengths and I tried to use the other pitches more than I should have. When I got back to using my fastball, I was successful again."

"You need it to grow, I think. Every time you have adversity, you get stronger and I think I need that. I am out there using the same pitches and now I can identity [the problems] earlier."

The Mets sure seem happy with their newly minted ace. They signed the big right-hander to a new contract this offseason – a $3.925 million contract with $50,000 in performance bonuses – something he seems pretty satisfied with, while wanting to concentrate on the new season.

"All I did was pick up the phone and they said we were close and I said ‘sweet'. I try not to get involved in the business aspect of it. My job is to get people out. I hired other people to do the other part."

Pelfrey seems pretty happy with the new management kept pitching coach Dan Warthen, someone with whom he has clicked with ever since he got the job back in 2008. In fact, he went out of his way to praise his coach.

"Our offense can go out every night and put up a lot of runs," he said. "The pitching has been a question mark, but it was a question mark last year and we exceeded everyone's expectations. We were very good as a whole. I look first to be out there and compete every night. When you do that, you have a chance."

"Everyone said the pitching was a big question mark and it ended up as a strength. I think we exceeded expectations as a unit."

Like the rest of the Mets, Pelfrey will now have a new manger to answer to. Terry Collins won't coddle his pitcher and will get in his face when need be, which is something the soft-spoken Plefrey seems to need. In fact, during an elementary school appearance this winter, Collins was already talking about spring training drills with the players, something Pelfrey seemed to enjoy.

"I think you have to be [excited]," Pelfrey said. "This is a game of adjustments and this guy is ready to go. Everybody is receptive of it and listening. It made me excited."

Pelfrey also will have Josh Thole to throw to this year from day one. Pelfrey thinks Thole has really improved as a catcher over the past 12 months.

"He's good," Pelfrey said. "He was a guy who I threw to a little before. I thought he was okay. Then he got better and last year he got better and better and better. He's very easy to work with and he works hard. I think he's great now. It's a credit to him."

Pelfrey now needs to set and seek some goals for himself and his team. Personally, he wants to be an innings eater for the club by going late into games, thus saving the bullpen.

"I felt like I took a step forward last year and I want to continue on doing it," he said. "Now I want to be the guy who wants to get to the eighth or ninth inning. The one goal is innings. I want to rack up the innings. I want to go out there and every night and give the team [depth].

As for the team, Pelfrey wants the club to be more consistent, doing the little things that win games, something he said was absent last year.

"I thought we were ok, " he said. "But I thought there were things we could have done better. The little things win games, like getting a bunt down. The little thingsare huge in baseball and that wasn't a great strength for us. Terry Collins seems like he will change that."

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