Three-Bagger: Pelfrey, Power and Pedro
by, 04-05-2013 at 12:47 AM (901 Views)
Welcome to the season’s first edition of Three-Bagger. In these occasional columns, I will examine three different ongoing Twins storylines worth following. Today, we’ll take a look at Mike Pelfrey’s remarkable return to the hill, promising early signs from some key hitters in the middle of the lineup and a growing dilemma at the shortstop position.
* I wrote earlier this week about the Twins’ low expectations, pointing out that they’ll need to find different ways to engage fans since a competitive record is unlikely. Good stories are always a draw, and to that end, Pelfrey certainly qualifies.
On Thursday, Pelf took the mound to make his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 1st of 2012. Based on my (admittedly non-scientific) research, his is the fastest comeback for a starting pitcher, ever. And unlike most hurlers recovering from the operation, Pelfrey didn’t get the benefit of a minor-league rehab stint. He sharpened up in spring training and dove right in, taking on a potent Tigers lineup at Target Field and performing admirably. The big right-hander threw 96 pitches and worked effectively into the sixth inning. He pitched even better than his numbers suggest, as both runs scored against him were the result of defensive misplays.
Pelfrey worked mostly in the high 80s with his fastball, occasionally touching 91 or 92. That’s a step back from his pre-surgery velocity, which sat around 95 mph, but he managed to keep the ball down and induce 13 grounders compared to only four fly balls.
It was a very encouraging start to the season for a guy who continues to ignore precedence and handle Tommy John recovery on his own terms.
* At one point last year, it seemed like the two big right-handed boppers in the Minnesota lineup – Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe – were going tit for tat in the home run column. That competition trailed off after Plouffe suffered a thumb injury that sidelined him and sabotaged his production late in the season, allowing Willingham to finish with a hefty 35-24 advantage.
It looks like the two are restarting the rivalry early this season. Just one inning after Willingham went deep for the first time on Thursday, Plouffe placed a tally in the home run column with a mammoth blast to left.
The presence of these two sluggers in the middle of the lineup is a big reason many – including myself – believe the Twins could be a surprisingly potent offensive unit this year. While we’re still waiting for some other hitters amongst that mix to get going, it’s promising to see Willingham and Plouffe warming up the lumber early despite the chilly weather.
* I mentioned earlier that Pelfrey was victimized by some shoddy defense in his outing on Thursday. If it becomes a trend, that’s going to be a real problem for the contact-heavy hurler, and the same goes for essentially everyone else in this rotation.
Converting chances in the field will be vitally important this year – a big part of the reason that the Twins opted to start all-glove, no-stick shortstop Pedro Florimon. The 26-year-old has been a consistently terrible hitter throughout his career, so he needs to provide a lot of value on the other end to justify his place in the lineup. So his troubles with routine plays during the first series of the season – an extension of what we saw during his audition last season – are quite worrisome.
Florimon is tremendously athletic, with quick reflexes and a great arm. He’s proven capable of making special plays. Unfortunately, he also tends to get too casual with non-rushed throws and lapse on plays that should be made. There’s little margin for those sorts of errors when his value is almost entirely vested in his defense. If the trend continues, Ron Gardenhire should not hesitate to make a change. Florimon simply hasn’t done anything to earn a long leash.