Commentary

Manuel optimistic despite Pelfrey stinker

Struggling starter records four outs in blowout loss vs. Diamondbacks

Updated: July 20, 2010, 8:18 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

PHOENIX -- It had been 425 days since the New York Mets last put shortstop Jose Reyes and center fielder Carlos Beltran on the same field.

Any euphoria from their reunion didn't last long.

Mike Pelfrey required 51 pitches to complete the first inning -- barely -- and ultimately had the shortest start of his career. The Mets lost 13-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks -- their fourth loss in five games on a second-half-opening trip. (It would have been 0-5 if the San Francisco Giants' Travis Ishikawa had correctly been ruled safe in the ninth inning Sunday.)

"I think tonight definitely was the shortest outing of my life," Pelfrey said. "It's frustrating."

Pelfrey raced to a 9-1 record this season only to get knocked out in the fifth inning in each of his three starts before the All-Star break, and this time he recorded only four outs before being replaced by Raul Valdes. Pelfrey was charged with six runs. His previous shortest career outing was three innings (against the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, and against the Colorado Rockies in April 2007).

Pelfrey became the first pitcher in franchise history to allow four or more earned runs in four straight starts while failing to complete the fifth inning, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His 51-pitch first inning was the most in the opening frame by a Mets pitcher since Tom Glavine had the identical amount on June 5, 2003, in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"It's concerning," manager Jerry Manuel said. "There's no doubt about it. It's concerning. We're talking about a young man that we felt was an All-Star pitcher. To have those outings that he's had here lately, that's really discouraging, because he's a guy that we are counting on very heavily down the stretch here to do what we need to do. I need to see him get back to that fastball."

Manuel continued by explaining that Pelfrey may have become too consumed with the other pitches he has developed while drifting away from his strengths as a sinker-oriented power pitcher.

"We need to see that," Manuel said. "He's not a finesse guy. He's not a trick guy. He's a power sinker guy. And that's what he's got to get back to. ... There are times when we can say [Josh] Johnson, [Ubaldo] Jimenez, Pelfrey. We can't say that right now. And that's what he has to get back to. And he can do it. I have no doubt in my mind that he can be that guy."

Said catcher Rod Barajas: "Recently, the fastball has been ball one, ball two. The split hasn't been as effective as it was earlier on [either]. We used to throw that quite a bit. Right now it just seems like it's coming out of his hand out of the strike zone and guys aren't swinging at it and you're in a hole."

Pelfrey originally had been scheduled to face the Giants on Saturday, but was pushed back two days because of neck stiffness, which he blamed on sleeping awkwardly on his commercial flights to rejoin the team after spending the All-Star break in his native Wichita, Kan. He indicated that was a nonissue Monday.

Pelfrey's subpar outing may even have expedited the return of Oliver Perez.

Valdes ultimately is expected to be demoted to clear room for Perez's activation from the disabled list. And because Valdes tossed 2 2/3 innings in relief of Pelfrey, he could be unavailable Tuesday. Perez might as well replace Valdes now if that's the case.

Perez flew from Buffalo, where he was pitching for Triple-A Buffalo, to Phoenix on Monday. He will be a $12 million reliever this season, according to Manuel.

The Mets, who trailed 6-0 after two innings, momentarily made it a contested game in the fifth. Angel Pagan delivered an RBI single. David Wright then advanced Pagan to third with a double. But Beltran left both in scoring position with an inning-ending fly out to left field.

When Mets reliever Fernando Nieve surrendered five sixth-inning runs -- capped by Mark Reynolds three-run homer -- Arizona had a double-digit lead, creating the perfect time to insert Perez if he had been activated.

So much for the Mets celebrating the return of their full lineup. Reyes was playing for the first time in nine days since he was pulled in the seventh inning at Citi Field with continued right oblique issues. Second baseman Luis Castillo returned after his bruised feet led to a six-week stint on the disabled list. Beltran was playing his fourth game in five days after missing the season's first half recovering from surgery on an arthritic right knee.

"The tough thing is that it's July and they're just getting on the field," Manuel said. "That's the tough thing. I know they're all going to have some adjustments to make. But I think the good thing, for the most part they should be fresh and should be hungry to play."

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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