FORT MYERS, FLA – Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson looked on as righthander Mike Pelfrey threw in the bullpen early this week. Anderson noticed better velocity and sharper control than a year ago.
“I told him, ‘Right now, you are about where you were at midseason last year,’ ” Anderson said.
Anderson is excited for Pelfrey, who was 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA last season in his first action following Tommy John elbow surgery in May 2012 that cost him the rest of that season. Anderson and Pelfrey spent countless bullpen sessions last season trying to help Pelfrey regain the feel for his pitches and rediscover his old mechanics. Along the way they’ve built a strong relationship, and Pelfrey has become one of the most popular players on the team.
“I love having him around,” Anderson said.
Pelfrey playfully grimaced when that was relayed to him.
“He’s lying,” the righthander said.
Well, someone has rubbed off on someone, as the sides worked out a two-year, $11 million deal to keep him from leaving as a free agent. Now the Twins hope to reap the benefits of being patient through Pelfrey’s recovery year. And Pelfrey hopes to help the Twins as they expect to improve after 96 losses last season.
The former Met, who said he was “crucified” at times by fans and media in the Big Apple, embraced the change of scenery when he moved to the Twin Cities.
“I enjoy the guys here and enjoy the coaching staff,” he said. “I think this organization is headed in the right direction and the comfort level is there with the coaching staff.”
Anderson constantly ribs Pelfrey. When the two were watching a minor leaguer throw early in camp, Pelfrey asked who the pitcher was and Anderson replied, “The guy who’s taking your job. You’re in the bullpen, Pelf.”
Pelfrey tries to keep his teammates relaxed. One day last season, Pelfrey grabbed a ball from the trainer’s room and took to the outfield for an impromptu game of kickball hours before the first pitch. That game turned into a contest to see if anyone could kick the ball over the right-center field wall at Target Field.
“So it’s me, [Josh] Roenicke and [Kevin] Correia out there to see if we can kick it over that huge wall,” Twins lefthander Scott Diamond said.
“That’s a view inside the mind of Mike Pelfrey.
“He’s the guy that keeps it lighthearted. [Twins manager Ron] Gardenhire does that for the clubhouse but Mike keeps it even-keeled for all the pitchers, especially the starting pitchers. He really makes those days between starts go fast.”
Happy with his work environment and motivated to show the Twins he can consistently win again, Pelfrey gets to show the progress he’s made Friday when he starts against the Red Sox in the Grapefruit League opener.
“The idea is to continue to get better,” he said. “I think the velocity is not quite there yet, but the command and the secondary stuff is. I went into the offseason believing that the slider was a big deal to me. I worked my tail off and I thought it was pretty good the other day.
“I feel normal, that’s the best thing I can say. I have a scar to remind me [of the surgery], but I never look at it and I feel good.”