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Mike Pelfrey.

H. Rumph Jr, Associated Press

TWINS THE OFFSEASON

Pelfrey comes aboard just in time to be shut down

  • Article by: La VELLE E. NEAL III
  • Star Tribune
  • December 21, 2012 - 7:04 AM

Pitcher Mike Pelfrey officially joined the Twins on Thursday and promptly was shut down from participating in his offseason program.

It's not because the righthander is struggling in his comeback from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. It's actually the opposite.

Pelfrey, who turns 29 in January, said his rehab has been as smooth as it can be since surgery on May 1.

"I was just looking for an opportunity to come out and pitch and be able to take the ball every fifth day," Pelfrey said, "and Minnesota is giving me that opportunity and I'm very grateful for that.

"I've worked my butt off to get back and be back on Day 1, and it looks like I will be able to do that. I'm pretty excited about that."

The Twins signed Pelfrey as a relatively low-risk move to bolster a rotation that was among baseball's worst last season. He will earn $4 million in 2013 and can make another $1.5 million in bonuses.

Pitchers generally return from Tommy John surgery in anywhere from 12 to 18 months, but there are cases where that timetable has been moved up. Pelfrey hopes to join Tim Hudson among the pitchers who have returned in less than a year.

The Twins hope Pelfrey joins Scott Diamond, Vance Worley, Kevin Correia and perhaps Kyle Gibson as a member of an improved rotation.

He has been throwing frequently since Aug. 21. He recently faced batters at his alma mater Wichita State. So the Twins felt now was a good time to take a few weeks off before getting on the mound for a few bullpen sessions before spring training.

"We sat down [Wednesday] when I was there and got to talk about a game plan going into spring training," Pelfrey said. "They are going to let me take a little break. It comes at a good time because I'm pretty much finished with a throwing program. This will allow for a pretty easy transition coming into spring training."

Unlike Gibson, a rookie who also is coming back from Tommy John surgery, Pelfrey has thrown 896 1/3 career innings in the major leagues, all with the New York Mets, while going 50-54 with a 4.36 ERA. His best season came in 2010, when he was 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA. He slumped to 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA in 2011 and made three starts in 2012 -- posting a 2.29 ERA -- before the Mets shut him down for surgery.

Pelfrey's workload history will set him up to pitch deep into the season, if he is effective and healthy. And Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said on Thursday that the lack of red flags to this point gives Pelfrey a chance to open spring training on the same program as the other starters. Gibson's innings will be watched more closely.

"I don't know how long it will take him to get to 100 percent," Ryan said, "but he is in a good spot now to coming here and showing whether or not he can compete and take his turn. Right now, I am of the opinion that he will have very few restrictions on him when he reports on Feb. 12."

Twins after Harden

According to multiple sources, the Twins are working on a deal for Rich Harden, a gifted but oft-injured righthander who is making a comeback after a year away from the game.

Harden, 31, used a hard fastball and filthy slider to amass a 59-38 record over nine seasons with a 3.76 ERA, averaging 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. But shoulder and elbow problems derailed his career.

He was 4-4 with a 5.12 ERA in 15 starts with Oakland in 2011 before missing all of last season. Harden broke in with Oakland in 2003 and pitched for the Cubs in 2008 and '09 and the Rangers in 2010 before returning to the A's two years ago.

The Twins likely would sign Harden to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training.

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