MINNEAPOLIS — Adversity has been something Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey has become accustomed to over the last few years. So a flu bug was nothing more than a mere annoyance Monday against Detroit as the right-hander made what turned out to be his final start of the season.
Admittedly not feeling well as he dealt with the flu, Pelfrey took the mound against the Tigers in the Twins’ series opener at Target Field. As Detroit rolled out ace Justin Verlander, Pelfrey nearly matched the powerful right-hander through six innings. While Pelfrey didn’t earn a decision in Minnesota’s 4-3 extra-innings win, he ended his 2013 season on a high note.
After the game, Pelfrey said Monday was his last start of the year. He was scheduled to pitch again on Saturday, but since he’s one year removed from Tommy John surgery, Pelfrey and the Twins felt it was best to call it a season following Monday’s performance.
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“(Pitching coach Rick Anderson) always told me he wanted me to end on a positive note, so maybe if that would have happened three starts ago I would have finished then,” Pelfrey said. “I think this was probably it.”
It’s been an up-and-down season for Pelfrey, who signed with Minnesota as a free agent this past offseason after spending the first seven years of his career with the New York Mets. A first-round pick by the Mets in 2005, Pelfrey’s 2012 season was shortened to just three games after he had season-ending surgery on his right elbow.
The timing of the surgery wasn’t great, as Pelfrey became a free agent at the end of 2012. But Minnesota was willing to give the 29-year-old right-hander a shot on a one-year contract. Following Monday’s outing, in which he allowed just one run in six innings, Pelfrey lowered his season ERA to 5.19. That ERA and his 5-13 record are certainly not eye-popping numbers, but Pelfrey believes he had some good outings this year.
That included Monday, as he struck out five Tigers batters and limited the damage to just one run. Pitching with the flu, Pelfrey felt his fastball was perhaps the worst it’s been all season.
“I can’t tell you if that’s fatigue or me feeling weak from being sick,” Pelfrey said. “The secondary stuff was probably the best it’s been all year. Obviously it was good enough to get by and survive. I think that’s an encouraging sign.”
The only run Pelfrey allowed Monday came in the top of the fifth inning. Ramon Santiago singled to center and advanced to second on a base hit by Austin Jackson. Former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter then drove in Santiago for the first run of the game. But Pelfrey was able to strand Jackson at third and Hunter on second to escape the fifth without any further damage.
Pelfrey again left a runner in scoring position in the sixth when he got Santiago to fly out to end the inning. He walked off the mound trailing 1-0, having thrown his last pitch of the 2013 season.
“Our starting pitcher was fantastic,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It didn’t look too pretty on the mound, but a really, really nice job of hanging in there. … That was fun to watch. That was a guy that was not feeling too awful well and did a really nice job against a very, very tough lineup over there.”
By throwing six innings Monday, Pelfrey earned himself a $100,000 bonus. His contract includes incentives for various innings marks. He surpassed 150 innings in Monday’s outing, which netted him the bonus. He has another incentive for 160 innings, but he would have needed to throw 7 ⅓ innings in another start to reach that; his longest outing this season was just seven innings.
The contract incentives weren’t on the forefront of Pelfrey’s mind. Instead, he was pleased to end his 2013 season on a high note with a strong start — and a walk-off win for his Twins team. After the game, Pelfrey reiterated the fact that he would like to be back in Minnesota next year. He’ll hit free agency once again after the season is over but enjoyed his time with the Twins organization.
“I want to come back. I’ve expressed that to Andy, to Gardy, to Terry (Ryan),” Pelfrey said. “Ultimately it’s in their hands what direction they want to go. But I told them I’d love to come back. We’ll cross that bridge when it gets here.
“Minnesota’s been great. It’s been very refreshing coming from New York. I’ve enjoyed my time here and hopefully there will be a lot more.”