"Life is like a Mike Pelfrey start; you never know what you're gonna get."
- Forrest Gump
Through Spring Training, many of us had our pitchforks and torches out, calling for his head. In fact, after his miserable start against the Houston Astros (8ER in 2 2/3), even the Mets brass were considering cutting him loose; his contract wasn't guaranteed. There were two problems that arose, however -
- The team valued Pelfrey's ability to eat innings (he has made at least 31 starts each year since 2008, and hovered around 200 innings), which would be especially valuable with a potentially unhealthy Johan Santana returning to the rotation.
- Who could the Mets get that would be better? Internally, the best (read: only options) were
- Chris Schwinden (who did not fare well in a September call-up last season)
- Garrett Olson (who hasn't pitched over 100 innings since 2009)
- Jeremy Hefner (brought over after a disappointing season with San Diego, had never appeared in the majors)
- Miguel Batista (need I say more?)
Chris Young was not yet near ready (best case scenario would be late May/early June), but given his injury (torn anterior capsule; AKA the same injury Santana is just now returning from) that could just be wishful thinking. Top prospects Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia are both too raw at this point, coming into 2012 Spring Training with only a handful of starts in AA.
So the Mets stuck with Pelfrey, and for the most part he hadn't disappointed. His numbers this year (24H, 13K, 4BB, 5ER in 19 2/3) were a pleasant surprise. His last start, this past Saturday against the San Francisco Giants was frankly dominant (1ER in 8IP). He was showing consistent downward movement from his sinker, and an ability to pound the lower half of the strike zone. Things were looking up for Big Pelf.
Aaaaaaaaaand here we are. Reports have surfaced of a partially torn UCL, his MRI's have been sent to renowned sports surgeon Dr. James Andrews, and Mike Pelfrey could be facing Tommy John surgery. So, by necessity and not by design, we're forced to address the situation. With a thin wallet and a thinner group of free agent pitchers, the Mets will likely look to at least match what they expected from Pelfrey from this point out, which is roughly 180 more innings and a 4.00 ERA.
Schwinden is the immediate option, as he has been tabbed Friday's starter against the Colorado Rockies. In all likelyhood, he will be given every opportunity to fill in (at least for the time being). He's fairly young (turns 26 in September), he's the most experienced AAA pitcher the Mets have right now, and he's off to a pretty good start in Buffalo this year (2.05 ERA, 1.045 WHIP in 22 innings). If he produces that in Flushing, then I'd probably put my money down on the Mayans being right about 2012. Really, though, if he can at least show he's learned from last September and be competitive, he could stick around for a while.
If Chris Young can (A) stay on his current rehabilitation course, he could step into the rotation in about a month if Schwinden falters (perhaps even if he doesn't). The Mets liked what Young showed them last April (1.88 ERA and 22K in 24 innings), then again who wouldn't? Even with a fastball that hovers around 85 on a good day, Young was effective and efficient. The potential of a healthy Chris Young, somehow, is something to be excited about. The best case scenario for Young is for Schwinden to pitch well enough to keep the pressure off his shoulders as long as possible.
Based on what I've read/heard/seen, I wouldn't yet consider Hefner or Olson to be candidates for the rotation at this point. Similarly, I wouldn't expect to hear Harvey or Familia mentioned for another few months. They've been struggling with their command, and with the quality of AAA hitters so far, though they're showing improvement (Harvey's line today - 7IP, 4H, 0ER, 0BB, 5K, and a 2-run homer to boot). And really, it's probably for the best that they aren't brought back to the majors until September, to let them continue to develop before being thrown into the fire. Given the moves the front office has made, I wouldn't expect them to bring someone in from outside the organization, either by trade or free-agent signing.