The first one was nice. Now Mike Pelfrey has done it twice.
Making big pitches, keeping hitters off balance, shaking off a bad fourth inning, Pelfrey went seven innings as the Twins rallied for a 3-2 victory at Target Field, their first over the Tigers in five tries this season.
He threw seven scoreless innings at Kansas City on April 22, and one had to wonder if that was a fluke, given that Pelfrey was 5-16 over the past two seasons since joining the Twins. He has a new split-fingered fastball, his slider is tighter, he’s painting corners and he has confidence. That has enabled him to post a 2.25 ERA in four starts this season — including back-to-back victories in which he has pitched seven innings.
“Last year didn’t go any way anyone would like,” Pelfrey said. “I wanted to come in and make good on that two-year deal and we’ll see what happens. There’s lot of baseball left and I will try to build off this one.”
Pelfrey held Detroit to two runs (one earned) over seven innings on only three hits and two walks with seven strikeouts. He struck out the side in the second inning and retired the last nine batters he faced.
And it will likely allow him to remain in the starting rotation, leaving the Twins with a tough decision to make with righthander Ricky Nolasco. He is ready to come off the disabled list but there is no obvious choice to drop from the starting five.
“I don’t worry about that,” Pelfrey said. “I told you guys that I’m healthy and I have high expectations for myself when I am healthy and I am feeling good. Hopefully I go out there and do the best I can and see what happens.”
Pelfrey (2-0) is making scouts burn their old reports on him. Among the several clubs with representatives in the stands on Tuesday was one from the Dodgers, which just lost righthander Brandon McCarthy for the season to an elbow injury.
Pelfrey gave up an unearned run in the third. He walked Alex Avila on four pitches, and Danny Santana then misplayed Nick Castellanos’ grounder for an error. Avila eventually scored on Anthony Gose’s two-out single.
Santana’s RBI single in the bottom of the inning tied the score, but Peflrey gave up a run in the fourth on a booming RBI double by Yoenis Cespedes off the 411-foot marker in center.
Catcher Kurt Suzuki took the blame for not calling an off-speed pitch with the count 2-2.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” Suzuki said. “We were lucky enough to get that run back.”
After retiring the side in order in the seventh, Pelfrey walked off the mound down 2-1. He then watched Eduardo Escobar hit a RBI double off the right-center field wall off Anibal Sanchez (1-3), followed by a go-ahead single from Suzuki.
Casey Fien pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and Glen Perkins followed with a 1-2-3 ninth, retiring the heart of the order — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez — on three fly balls. Twins pitchers retired the final 15 Tigers batters.
And Pelfrey, who was to start the season in the bullpen before Ervin Santana was suspended 80 games, is making a statement to remain in the rotation.
“We’re hungry for good starting pitching,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “It’s been that way here for a while. We’re showing some signs. Guys are getting extended a little bit, we’re given them a chance at the end of their pitch counts to see what they can do, try to build confidence if we can.
“So far, the guys have been responding to that.”