Souhan: Twins' quality starts buoy hopes until the cavalry arrives

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2013 - 12:33 AM

While prospects ripen, Mike Pelfrey continued a trend by holding off the Tigers.

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Twins starter Mike Pelfrey didn’t want to come out after 5⅓ innings Thursday. “I’ve been a horse my whole life,” he said.

Photo: BRIAN PETERSON, Star Tribune

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Judging a Major League Baseball team by its first series might be like judging a movie by its title screen, but the Twins at least looked far different in their first three games of the 2013 season than they did while pratfalling out of the gate in 2011 and 2012.

In 2011, the Twins opened in Toronto and treated us to a sneak preview of the misadventures of champion juggler Tsuyoshi Nishioka. In 2012, the Twins skewered their own promise of improved fundamental play with a disastrous display of youth soccer in Baltimore.

What proved different during their 8-2 victory over Detroit on Thursday, and throughout their 2-games-to-1 series victory, was pitching readiness and maturity.

Monday, Vance Worley survived an unlucky first inning to keep the Twins alive through six. Wednesday, Kevin Correia kept an excellent lineup off-balance with a display of pitching know-how through seven. Thursday, Mike Pelfrey — 11 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery — allowed zero earned runs in 5⅓ innings. “I think if I was a crier, I probably would have cried,” he said.

The three new additions to the Twins’ rotation pitched a combined 18⅓ innings, allowing five earned runs for an ERA of 2.45. They demonstrated their lack of dominant stuff by allowing 20 hits and striking out only six. If this first impression proves meaningful, what they lack in stuff they might offset with savvy.

“When I went to take Pelf out, he said, ‘I’m a horse,’ ” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I didn’t know what that meant at the time.”

Gardenhire had walked over to Pelfrey on the bench after the top of the fifth and told him he was done for the day. Pelfrey disagreed.

“I said, ‘I’m not done,’ ” Pelfrey said. “I said, ‘I’ve been a horse my whole life. I want to get back out there.’ He said, ‘I trust you.’ ”

The story line turned out to be less dramatic than the conversation. Pelfrey lasted only one more out before yielding to the bullpen, which tapdanced around trouble but finished the job, leaving the Twins over .500 for the first time since 2010.

Pelfrey returned to the mound about a month ahead of his original schedule. “They told me to shoot for May 1,” he said. “I’ve been blessed. Not only blessed to put the uniform on and compete but blessed to come back as fast as I did and feel this good. Hopefully as the year goes on I’ll continue to get a little bit stronger and better.”

The beginning of the season will be pivotal for the franchise, at least in terms of perception. Their fan base is disgruntled and ready to spend its ticket money elsewhere this summer. Their organizational hopes are based on prospects who will arrive in platoons over the next few years. Another disastrous start would turn 2013 into extended spring training.

If Worley, Correia and Pelfrey are capable of providing quality starts, and Scott Diamond and Kyle Gibson are able to fill out the rotation while the organization waits on the likes of Alex Meyer, Trevor May and Jose Berrios, this season could become something more than an elaborate tryout.

“There’s a lot of good stuff going on in this clubhouse,” Pelfrey said. “We believe in each other.”

Pelfrey’s a big, affable guy who was given one of the Twins’ coveted corner lockers, locales usually assigned because of leadership characteristics. When he signed with the Twins, he asked for No. 34 and was reminded that the number belongs to the late Kirby Puckett.

When he joined the Mets to start his big-league career, he had asked for 41, which belonged to Tom Seaver.

The Twins don’t need Pelfrey to prove worthy of a retired jersey. They only need him to take the ball another 30-some times and keep telling Gardenhire that he’s a “horse.” The Twins have been looking for one.

 

Jim Souhan can been heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10-noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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