08/21/08 12:39 AM ET
Pelfrey goes distance for first time
Right-hander unexpectedly stays in all nine in three-hitter
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
It was an important win -- they all are, really -- and for Pelfrey, it was perhaps a leap into another echelon. The Mets defeated the Braves, 6-3, and Pelfrey loosened the shackles of his innings limitations, bullying through them with sheer success.
"Mike has evolved into one of the bright young pitching stars in the National League," manager Jerry Manuel said. "There's no question about it."
Pelfrey's skill level had nothing to do with the expectation that he wouldn't pitch too deep into this game. Lately, his shackles have come from elsewhere.
Because of Pelfrey's heavy workload and because of his importance -- but mostly because of his youth -- the Mets have made it a mission to limit his innings until this season's end. With Wednesday's nine innings inked onto the stat sheet, Pelfrey has now surpassed the total of 152 2/3 innings he amassed between three levels of the Mets organization last season. The Mets don't want to push him and risk a drop in effectiveness, or a potential injury.
But if Pelfrey can achieve without being pushed -- that is, if he can achieve efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness -- then the Mets can continue to squeeze every drop of success out of him that they can. Which is precisely what they did.
"It's kind of hard to take innings away from someone who's helping you out so much," catcher Brian Schneider said.
So the Mets didn't on Wednesday, instead piling nine more innings onto Pelfrey's season line. The big righty needed only 108 pitches to dispatch the Braves, running into pockets of trouble in the third and sixth innings, but escaping with only three runs blemishing his night.
Two of them came in the sixth inning, when the Braves loaded the bases with a single and two walks -- the type of rally that typically forces a pitcher into an early exit.
That's when pitching coach Dan Warthen marched to the mound, and the group of three -- Pelfrey, Schneider and Warthen -- decided that they'd be willing to sacrifice one run for two outs. Throw the ball down, Warthen instructed.
He fired a knee-level sinker toward Brian McCann, who rolled it to second base for a rally-stunting double play. None of the 10 remaining batters to face Pelfrey reached base.
"We asked him to do something," Schneider said. "And that's exactly what he did."
It seems simple, because it was simple.
"I want contact," Pelfrey said.
And in achieving contact, Pelfrey was able to record two outs with one pitch. That's how he lasted nine innings -- Manuel gave him a two-batter leash in the ninth -- and that's how he continued to spurn the innings limit that the Mets have set for him.
Pelfrey isn't aware of any concrete number, only that the team would like him to stay within 30 innings of his total from last year. Yet he's on pace to eclipse that extension by no small margin, and the Mets have no choice but to allow him to do it. By winning 10 of his last 12 decisions, he's simply become too important to the team.
"I know he's getting up there in innings in his career and everything," Schneider said. "But it would be tough to pull a guy out just because you don't want him to throw so many innings. We're in a race here."
Pelfrey isn't the only significant piece, either. Rookie Dan Murphy, a hitting sensation since his callup nearly three weeks ago, grounded a two-run single off Braves starter Jair Jurrjens on Wednesday, giving the Mets a lead that they would never relinquish.
Also helpful were two Braves errors and David Wright's 24th homer, though Pelfrey ensured that they would be merely details of the night's events.
What loomed more significant was the fact that the Mets bullpen -- struggling without Billy Wagner -- didn't even have to pitch. There are only so many innings in a game, and Pelfrey monopolized all of them.
"It lessened the blow, no doubt," Manuel said.
And so the Mets have won eight of their last nine games, beating up on the underbelly of the National League. Even with a fractured bullpen, they have reason to be confident -- Pelfrey is pitching the best ball of his career, Oliver Perez has shown ample consistency and the offense has provided just enough support.
Questions still swirl around the ability of Pedro Martinez and John Maine to pitch deep into games, which makes Pelfrey's lengthy outing all the more important. So as long as he's pitching efficiently -- and the Mets are winning -- innings limits can wait.
"We're at our best right now," Schneider said.
And it's difficult not to believe him.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.