Sunday, March 25, 2007

Taking the 5th...

There has been, over the course of the past few years, been a great contest throughout the Mets Spring Training camps over who, exactly, will round out the 5th spot in the Mets starting rotation. In the past, we have seen this role go to such luminaries as Brian Bannister, Tyler Yates, or Masato Yoshii.

Usually, it's a rookie, maybe a marginal prospect. More often than not, that guy hasn't lasted the season.

Things may be different this season.

Although Willie continued to insist right to the end that guys like Chan Ho Park and Aaron Sele had realistic chances at competing for the 5th spot in the rotation, the spot was, today, justifiably handed to Mr. Michael Pelfrey.

Unlike guys like Yates and Bannister, Pelfrey will arrive on the scene with more than a modicum of hype. He's a phenom, no doubt. El Guapo and I thought enough of him to take him late in our recent fantasy league draft--before knowing he would be guaranteed a spot in the rotation. We knew that the talent was there.

But was he ready? That was the question.

Pelfrey appeared in merely 4 games last season, 4 starts sandwiched around the All-Star break. This after being drafted in the first round of the 2005 Amateur Draft, signing late and not appearing in a pro game until the Spring of 2006. He blew through A and AA ball quickly, and fans, tiring of sitting through starts by Jeremi Gonzalez and Jose Lima, began clamoring for Pelfrey to be brought up. He would finally arrive on July 8th.

His debut against the Marlins produced a few sweat-inducing innings, jams he managed to work out of with a minimum amount of damage. He also had the benefit of his offense staking him to a large early lead, ending in a 17-2 rout for his first Major League victory.

Pelfrey's second outing was even better. Pitching in Cincinnati's tiny Great American Ball Park, Pelfrey hurled shutout ball into the 6th before giving up 2 runs and being lifted from the game. The Mets put away a close game late and he was 2 for 2 in the bigs.

But Pelfrey's next two starts would be less than stellar. At home, on a Sold-out Sunday afternoon against the Astros, Pelfrey struggled, allowing 5 runs over just over 4 innings of work. A second outing against the Marlins on August 1st would produce a no-decision, 6 innings, 4 runs allowed.

Pelfrey would be demoted to AAA following this start, and didn't appear in any more games for the Mets in '06. A brief glimpse. Flashes of brilliance, flashes of youth. But definitely a star in the making. We all saw how hard he was bringing it. An explosive fastball in the high 90s. Big, powerful curve. He needed that third pitch to complete the package. And we saw it this spring. The new slider. The one that was shattering Oriole bats all night last week. The one that turned him into a veritable ground ball machine all spring.

The one that would eventually seal his ticket for New York come April.

We likely won't see Pelfrey until Mid to Late April. With the number of off days that the Mets have, he won't be needed. He'll remain in Port St. Lucie, keeping sharp until the Mets are ready to unleash him on the National League, the bullet at the back end of their rotation.

We can expect more flashes of brilliance from Pelfrey in the upcoming season. We can also expect more flashes of youth from this 23-year old fireballer. He'll be great someday, and maybe sooner rather than later. He'll be fun to watch. Most importantly, he's earned the right to be here.

I know we'd all rather see him and have him struggle instead of having to watch Chan Ho Park and Aaron Sele. That's for damn sure.

Randolph names Pelfrey fifth starter []

No comments: