MINNEAPOLIS -- Recovering right-hander Mike Pelfrey and the Minnesota Twins finalized a $4 million, one-year contract on Thursday, filling another hole in a thin rotation.
For Pelfrey, the simple opportunity to pitch -- rather than competing with several others for a spot on a team with a deeper staff -- was what lured him to Minnesota. Target Field's reputation as a place that's difficult to hit home runs in helped, too, as did the chance to move closer to his home in Wichita, Kan.
After making only three starts for the New York Mets in 2012, a season cut short by elbow ligament-replacement surgery on May 1, Pelfrey's passion for the sport was renewed as well. He said in a phone interview on Thursday he's fully confident he'll be ready for the start of spring training, a little more than 10 months removed from the Tommy John procedure.
Since he was cleared to resume throwing on Aug. 21, Pelfrey has done so every other day -- without taking a day off. After consulting with the Twins at his physical exam on Wednesday, Pelfrey agreed to a three-week break before ramping up for the season. His last session included 120 pitches at, he estimated, between 85 and 90 per cent strength. The hitters he faced in a workout at his alma mater, Wichita State University, told him they thought his fastball was touching 90 mph. Pelfrey said he's also been using a full complement of pitches, from curveballs to sliders to split-fingered fastballs.
"I've never been hurt in my life. This is the first time. I didn't know how my body was going to respond. But I haven't felt anything, a twinge, a tweak, anything in my elbow," he said. "So something crazy would have to happen for me to not be ready in spring training," Pelfrey said.
Pelfrey went 50-54 with a 4.36 ERA over seven seasons with the Mets.
His deal, agreed to last weekend, includes $1.5 million in performance bonuses: $100,000 for 150 innings, $150,000 for 160 innings, $250,000 each for 170, 180 and 190 innings and $500,000 for 200 innings. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound, 28-year-old Pelfrey, who was arbitration eligible, was not offered a contract by the Mets earlier this off-season.
Originally selected by the Mets in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2005 draft, Pelfrey posted a career-high 15 wins in 2010. He's the third starting pitcher to leave the National League for Minnesota's rotation, joining Vance Worley (Philadelphia) and Kevin Correia (Pittsburgh). Scott Diamond is the only holdover assured of a spot.
The Twins weren't turned off by Pelfrey's injury, particularly given the way pitchers in recent years have been able to return more quickly from Tommy John surgery.
"He's got stuff. He's still in the prime of his career," general manager Terry Ryan said.