TORONTO – Mike Pelfrey’s return from the disabled list on Saturday could have been disastrous.
The Twins righthander had recovered from a back strain and was activated in time to take the ball against the Blue Jays. But in the first inning — an inning in which he walked the bases loaded — he slightly strained his groin muscle.
Instead of things getting worse, they got better.
Pelfrey adjusted his delivery, actually slowing himself down a tad. He had more life in his pitches and better control of them. He was able to pitch six shutout innings, and the Twins beat Toronto 6-0 to end a six-game losing streak, one day after manager Ron Gardenhire spoke to his team about having more fun.
The Twins scored three runs in the third inning, then three more in the seventh on Brian Dozier’s home run to pull away from knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
Now back to that groin pull. “I tweak my groin every year, at some point,” Pelfrey said. “It’s not a big deal at all. I’ll be OK.”
Pelfrey (4-6) didn’t walk a batter after the first inning, scattering three hits. He began to hit 95 miles per hour on the radar gun with his fastball. He worked the ball in and out. Thanks to a double play in the second inning, a runner caught stealing in the fourth and another double play in the fifth, Pelfrey faced the minimum three batters in his final five innings and earned his first victory since May 5, a span of nine starts.
“It was pretty much strikes and get back down in the zone and make pitches,” he said. “The ball was moving a lot. It was kind of changing your eyesight and target, and then once I slowed my tempo down a little bit I was able to get on top of the ball and make pitches.
“It’s always better if it’s strikes as long as it’s not down the middle. The ball came out good and was running. The second through sixth, I definitely did a better job of locating pitches than earlier.”
It turned out well, despite that 32-pitch first inning.
“I’m going, ‘Oh my goodness gracious,’ because we needed him to go deep,” Gardenhire said. “But he had a couple quick innings in the middle.”
No one panicked because Pelfrey looked mechanically sound — after the first inning.
The Twins, determined to end their losing streak, took a 3-0 lead off Dickey (8-9) in the third, with the key hit a two-out RBI double by Jamey Carroll to end an 11-pitch at-bat. Carroll then scored on an RBI single by Joe Mauer, who later Saturday was named to his sixth All-Star team.
Dozier put the game away in the seventh when he hit his eighth home run of the season, a three-run shot to left off Dickey, last year’s National League Cy Young Award winner.
Relievers Caleb Thielbar, Jared Burton and Glen Perkins combined to work the final three innings and end the losing streak. Perkins got the final out minutes before learning that he had been named to the All-Star team for the first time in his career.
Pelfrey’s ERA dropped from 6.11 to 5.63 because of the six shutout innings. Perhaps he is beginning a groin-induced streak of scoreless innings?
“Hopefully it will hang around for a month,” Pelfrey joked. “I’ll slow down and pitch better.”