"He deserves it," Collins said after speaking with fifth and sixth graders from Sunnyside Community Services of Queens in the home clubhouse. "He earned it. He should have made the All-Star team last year. Right now, I think Mike Pelfrey should be the No. 1 guy on this staff."
"I think that's the guys you want to go against," said Pelfrey, who went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA last season. "Usually when you face guys of that caliber, it usually brings the best out of you. I'll be looking forward to it, and I'll go out there and I'll do the best I can and we'll see what happens."
Said Collins: "Well, you know, somebody has got to pitch against them. And why not it be Mike? I know one thing: He's excited about it. He's ready to compete. If that's who he draws, that's who he draws. I don't know what else to say."
The decision, perhaps obvious, marks a major show of confidence compared with a year ago under former manager Jerry Manuel.
Pelfrey had been lined up throughout the Grapefruit League season in 2010 to face the Marlins in Game 2 of the regular season, behind Santana. But when the organization reviewed Pelfrey's career stats against the Marlins -- now 1-6 with a 5.32 ERA -- the staff juggled the rotation at the last moment and instead switched Pelfrey to the second series against Washington, irking him.
"He might call us in before the first game and tell us we're playing the Marlins the first series, and I might skip that series," Pelfrey joked about Collins.
Said right-hander R.A. Dickey: "I think he deserves it 100 percent, and should welcome the opportunity. I think he's ready."
Pelfrey, who avoided arbitration Monday by agreeing to a $3.925 million base salary for the upcoming season, raced to a 9-1 record in 2010. He then had a summer swoon, going 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in a seven-start stretch, before getting back on track.
"Overall I thought I had a good year," Pelfrey said. "I thought I had one godawful month, or however you want to describe it. It was horrible. I think the best thing about it was that the last five weeks of the season I thought I rebounded and I thought I threw the ball well, which is important. I thought I ended on a good note. I think in the time where I struggled, I got so far away from using my fastball and almost got to the point where I started trying to trick guys. And then I got back to using the fastball, which I was doing early in the year. And then I was successful again.
"There's going to be ups and downs. You're going to have some adversities. You try to learn from those. And the next time you go through them, hopefully it doesn't last seven starts like it did last time."
Pelfrey's wife Angela is due with the couple's second child, a daughter, on Feb. 11. The family plans to induce labor a week earlier so that Pelfrey can be present and also arrive in time for when pitchers and catchers officially report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Feb. 15.
As for the Opening Day start, Pelfrey added: "It makes me feel good, but there's still a lot of work to be done. There's still a lot of time before it actually starts. I'll look forward to it, and I'll go into spring training getting myself ready for the first game."