Mike Pelfrey reworked his mechanics and found life on his fastball, and Ike Davis and Lucas Duda homered. However, closer Frank Francisco failed to protect a one-run lead in the ninth and the Mets tied the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-6, in 10 innings Saturday at Digital Domain Park.
New York Mets
Pelfrey’s velocity had sagged in early Grapefruit League outings, hovering around 87 mph. And when he increased his zip in his most-recent start, Pelfrey was rocked for eight runs in 2 2/3 innings by the Houston Astros last weekend in Kissimmee.
Pelfrey worked with pitching coach Dan Warthen during the week, reverting to a mechanical feature he used while pitching in college at Wichita State as well as in his first few years in the minors. Rather than keep his hands near his belt as he begins his delivery, Pelfrey began with his hands above his head. That felt more fluid and helped him drive the ball down when he threw his signature sinker.
Pelfrey touched 95 mph in the first inning Saturday, while sitting mostly in the 91-93 mph range. He retired the first six Cardinals he faced, until third baseman Justin Turner’s error opened the third inning. Pelfrey allowed four runs that frame, but settled down again afterward. He ultimately was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits while striking out two, walking none and hitting a batter in six innings.
The performance actually shaved Pelfrey’s Grapefruit League ERA to 11.49.
He is lining up for Game 4 of the season, April 9 in a series opener against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field, after Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese handle the opening series against the Atlanta Braves.
“I was actually pretty pleased today,” Pelfrey said. “… I threw a lot of strikes. I made a couple of pitches that I left up and didn’t execute and they hit it. But I thought I was aggressive, throwing strikes.”
Said Terry Collins: “I thought he was much, much better. I thought his ball had great life to it. Obviously, when it’s up, he doesn’t have the sink. That’s where he made a couple mistakes -- up in the strike zone. But, otherwise, he threw great.”
Pelfrey’s right ankle was taped afterward. But the injury, which he had when he arrived in camp, is now behind him, he insisted.
“It felt great,” Pelfrey said. “Today’s actually the best it’s felt. That’s a nonissue. If I start missing practices or missing a game, then we can talk about it.”
New York Mets
• Davis’ long ball -- a three-run shot -- was his first, technically, since May 6, 2011 off the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda at Citi Field, before a season-ending ankle injury. It went to the opposite field, which encouraged Collins.
Collins said Davis might have been shy going opposite field at Citi Field before this offseason’s dimension renovations. The alterations include slicing the 16-foot wall in left field in half. Upon announcing the changes, Mets officials said there had been only six total opposite-field homers by lefty hitters at Citi Field -- combined by both the Mets and opponents -- over three seasons.
Davis has had only one true opposite-field homer in two seasons in the majors, off James Russell at Wrigley Field on Sept. 5, 2010. Three of Davis’ other career homers have landed over the wall just to the left of dead-center. (See annual charts of Davis’ home runs here. You can change the year at the top.)
Duda’s shot, meanwhile, was a massive blast just to the right of dead-center that hit the batter’s eye and appeared to travel about 430 feet.
“When Ike Davis was a young guy, he’d hit some balls to left-center field and left field. He had power to that field,” Collins said. “The old Citi Field took that stuff away from a lot of guys. Not that you can’t hit it out of there, it was just very, very difficult for it. So now, today, that ball he hit, that’s out in the new ballpark. The new dimensions, that ball is a home run.”
Collins figures Duda similarly will benefit from the Citi Field alterations.
“We’ve got to start getting Lucas to have confidence to be the old kind of guy that he was -- be that left-center to right-field line kind of a guy,” Collins said. “When they start seeing that some of those fly balls that they hit to left field that have got some backspin are going to get out of there, I think they’ll be a lot more comfortable at the plate.”
Davis seemed particularly excited about driving the ball out to left field.
“You see that oppo jack?” Davis playfully asked David Wright in the clubhouse afterward. “When do I do that?”
Said Davis: “The last couple of days I’ve driven the ball a lot better in batting practice, and that’s usually a sign that if I do actually hit it in the game, it will go far. Early in the spring I just wasn’t consistently having a good swing and driving the ball. Heck, I wasn’t even doing it in BP.”
• If Bobby Parnell’s roster spot ever was up in the air because of a remaining minor league option, it no longer can be. Parnell tossed a perfect inning Saturday. Since a meltdown in the final intrasquad game that included drilling Zach Lutz in the elbow, Parnell now has tossed 6 1/3 scoreless Grapefruit League innings. He has surrendered only three hits while striking out six and issuing a walk.
• Jon Rauch and Josh Edgin had no-hit innings Saturday, with Rauch walking one batter.
• Francisco, who suffered the blown save, has allowed a run in six of his eight Grapefruit League appearances.
• Adam Loewen struck out in his lone at-bat Saturday. He now has 18 strikeouts in 34 at-bats. Scouts believe Mike Baxter has overtaken Loewen for the lefty-hitting backup outfielder role and would be more likely to get a pinch-hit off the bench after being idle for a few days, although Loewen has more raw power.