By Mike Steffanos
Sorry for being a little sporadic on the posting this week. I'm buried in work.
I had a chance after dinner tonight to sit down in front of the TV and spend some quality time with this afternoon's game that I had DVR'ed. I was particularly interested in a chance to watch Mike Pelfrey pitch some substantial innings, as he is undoubtedly one of the keys to the 2009 season.
Pelfrey is decidedly not a darling of the number crunching crowd, and I could understand why. He doesn't have elite quality strikeout numbers, and although he gets his share of groundballs he doesn't have a groundball percentage in the 60s like a Derek Lowe.
What he does have now is a commitment to pound the strike zone with both his sinking and straight fastballs. Whatever side you're on with Pelfrey, one thing that became clear last year is that he really needs to pitch aggressively to succeed, and he seems to bring that attitude to the mound with him every time out now.
Pelfrey unveiled a new weapon in today's game -- using a front door* sinker on the inside part of the plate to lefties. It's the pitch that Greg Maddux used so effectively for so long, using the natural break of the sinker to start it at the batters hip and bringing it back over the inside corner for a strike. It was fairly effective today, especially considering that it was the first actual game Pelfrey used it in.
[*Correction: Several of you sent me e-mails correctly pointing out that what I had originally labeled as a "back door" sinker is actually called a front door sinker. Thanks for pointing out my error, it's been corrected above.]
In an interview with Gary and Ron after his successful 6 inning stint, Pelfrey said he got the idea for trying the pitch a couple of weeks ago watching Livan Hernandez. If Hernandez contributes nothing much else this year, that could still count as a major factor if Pelfrey finds some more success with this pitch -- particularly since getting lefties out more consistently would play a big factor in Pelfrey taking another step up.
He threw a lot of changeups today, too. While I wouldn't characterize it as a truly plus pitch right now, he doesn't seem to be tipping it like he did a lot last year. Some of them were pretty good.
There were a few curves mixed in, too, and he did seem to be able to throw it with more consistency than the slider he scrapped. The main thing is that Pelfrey seems to have more confidence in his off-speed stuff than he did last year, and that could only help his game.
Most projections I've seen for Pelfrey seem to be looking for him to take a step back this season. It could happen. We've seen that happen to kids before. I myself feel fairly optimistic about the big right-hander, as I have all along. To me the big question isn't whether Pelf will be a solid major league pitcher, but rather how much of his upside he will fulfill. With the back-door sinker and the improved off-speed stuff, he could only get better as long as he continues to pitch aggressively.