Shortly before Mike Pelfrey took the mound for his first start in the Arizona Fall League, I stopped him outside the bullpen where he had been working with Mets Minor League Pitching Coordinator Rick Waits.
He slumped (which admittedly could have been due to the fact that his interviewer was nearly a foot shorter), he talked quietly, tentatively, seeming to always defer praise and accept criticism.
And an hour later the other guy got on the mound.
The slumping, shy interviewee, who rarely made eye contact and seemed genuinely happy to be interviewed (which simply doesn't fly since there are about 30 New York newspapers that clamored for quotes from him during his month long stay with the big league club) was replaced with a beast of a pitcher.
A towering right-hander who controlled both sides of the plate with a fastball that one gun registered at 98 MPH. Simply put, Pelfrey on the mound is a presence, Pelfrey in the interview seems to not want to be present.
Both Mike Pelfreys are a work in progress. Of course, the progress has been pretty spectacular so far.
Taken with the ninth overall pick in the 2005 MLB draft, the right-hander moved as fast as any pitcher in recent memory. He started the 2006 at high-A, and got all the way to the big leagues where he made four starts, going 2-1 with a 5.48 ERA, before being optioned back to triple-A to work on his secondary pitches.
And those secondary pitches, in particular command of them, are the reasons Pelfrey has landed in the Arizona Fall League.
"I'm out here to work on my slider," Pelfrey said before his first start of the AFL, "It's a new pitch I'm trying to learn, and then I also want to work on the command of my changeup and curveball."
That command was probably the only down side of Pelfrey's year. In high-A, where he could lean on a 95+ MPH fastball, he walked only two in 22 innings. Once he moved up to double-A, he walked 26 in 66.1 innings, and with the big league club he walked 12 (and hit three batters) in 21.1 innings.
Still, Pelfrey certainly didn't disappoint in his first trip around the Majors, which left open the door for him to be added to the Mets playoff roster. He wasn't, and he won't deny he was disappointed, but it's still been a pretty decent year.
"I thought that maybe if I was healthy when the time came I'd get the chance, but I know everything happens for a reason, and I know if I work on my stuff down here, I'll get those chances down the line."
Pelfrey is a classic example of how being too good can actually slow your growth as a big league pitcher. That fastball, which regularly sits in the mid-90s, and he has pin point control of, was enough in high school.
It was enough in college, and it was more than enough at high-A. If it ain't broke, you don't fix it, and so Pelfrey threw that fastball, early, late, often, and dominated, until double-A, when the chum has been separated, and guys can hit that fastball.
Unless you have a curveball you can change their look with, or a changeup that keeps them from gearing up for that plus plus fastball, or a slider that looks just like the fastball...until it breaks three feet. But to get to the point where you can use those pitches, first you have to throw those pitches, and that can make for some rough outings. Pelfrey knows that, apparently both Pelfreys know that, and they're willing to take the lumps in order to get better.
"I'm not trying to go out there and dominate," Pelfrey admitted before that first start, "obviously I want to do well, but I'm here to work on these pitches. I'm trying to develop my slider and changeup, and throw them in a game situation."
Then suddenly, for the first time in the interview, the other Pelfrey stepped into view.
"Of course, I want to win, everybody does," said Pelfrey. "When I get in trouble, when I've got guys on base, I'll go back to the fastball, but when no one is on base, I'm going to work on those pitches. I'm still trying to get guys out."
Every pitcher in the AFL has racked up innings during the season, and thus every pitcher in the AFL is on a strict pitch count. Pelfrey's first outing backed up what he had been saying pre-game.
One inning, two walks, a strikeout, a balk, zero runs, zero hits. He worked on his slider, threw several changeups, but when the first two runners reached, Pelfrey went back to the fastball, retiring the next three hitters.
It was a solid, if unspectacular outing. He'll be back out there with a mission, making that slider a solid compliment to the fastball, and both Pelfreys will be able to point to this first AFL start as a positive first step.
Pelfrey A Presence In The AFL
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