After latest poor outing, Pelfrey could lose spot in rotation

Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (left) talks to starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey in the second inning of Minnesota's loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Target Field on Thursday.

Jesse Johnson/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Nothing seems to be improving for Twins right-hander Mike Pelfrey. After his latest clunker Thursday against the Dodgers, Pelfrey’s spot in Minnesota’s starting rotation could be in jeopardy.

Pelfrey gave up five runs on seven hits in just four innings of work Thursday as the Twins fell 9-4 to Los Angeles. The loss dropped Pelfrey to 0-3 on the season as his ERA rose to 7.99 through five starts.

The Twins had hoped for a turnaround season from Pelfrey after he won just five games in 2013. They believed in him enough to sign him to a two-year, $11 million contract this winter.

Through one month of the 2014 season, that turnaround hasn’t happened.

Dodgers 9, Twins 4

"We’ve got to figure out what we need to do next and where we need to go with that, and that’s what we’re going to try to do here," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We’ll sit down and talk to the pitching coach and the pitcher and everybody involved and see where we go with this, because it’s not moving fast enough forward."

Pelfrey — who hasn’t won at Target Field since April 16 of last season — ran into trouble in the first inning after walking Adrian Gonzalez with two outs, but eventually escaped the inning unharmed. One inning later, however, Pelfrey slowly started to unravel. He gave up a leadoff single to Andre Ethier and followed that with a base hit by Juan Uribe. Pelfrey then walked Miguel Olivo in his first plate appearance of the 2014 season to load the bases with nobody out.

Carl Crawford grounded into a fielder’s choice as the Twins got Ethier at the plate, but the bases remained loaded. One batter later, Dee Gordon’s fielder’s choice scored a run. Yasiel Puig then delivered a two-out, two-run double to left-center to drive in Olivo and Gordon to put Pelfrey and the Twins behind 3-2.

Pelfrey served up two more runs in the third, including yet another walk — his third of the game. Gonzalez scored on Matt Kemp’s double to deep right-center field, and Kemp later came around on a single by Juan Uribe.

All five runs charged to Pelfrey were earned. He’s allowed at least three runs in all five of his starts this year, and Thursday’s four-inning outing was his shortest of the season.

"I kind of sound like a broken record, because I have this talk every five days and it’s not fun," Pelfrey said. "This game’s not fun when every five days you go out there and get your butt kicked. It’s frustrating."

If the Twins do decide to move Pelfrey to the bullpen, one possible candidate to replace him also pitched in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader. Right-hander Samuel Deduno, who started 18 games for Minnesota last year, pitched four innings of relief. He didn’t fare much better than Pelfrey, however, as he allowed three runs on seven hits.

Some Twins fans continue to clamor for pitching prospect Alex Meyer, who has excelled so far this season with Triple-A Rochester. In his last two starts, Meyer has tossed 12 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out 22 batters and allowing just five hits.

This game’s not fun when every five days you go out there and get your butt kicked. It’s frustrating.

Twins starter Mike Pelfrey

But calling up Meyer would mean adding him to the 40-man roster, and Gardenhire indicated that a roster move wasn’t likely at this point. Instead, it seems more probable that a change would come from within the 25-man roster. Of the relievers in the bullpen, Deduno seems to make the most sense. He threw 62 pitches in Thursday’s relief outing and could easily slot into Pelfrey’s next scheduled start since they threw on the same day.

Pelfrey has pitched out of the bullpen just four times in his nine-year career but has yet to do so with the Twins. If Minnesota’s coaching staff decides to shake things up, Pelfrey could soon find himself in a relief role.

"I probably wouldn’t be happy, but obviously I’m not helping the team starting every fifth day," Pelfrey said when asked about a potential move to the bullpen. "I would accept it and go down there and do the best I can and try to get in some kind of groove and get back into it. Obviously, taking the ball every five days isn’t working. I’ll do whatever they ask."

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