After struggling last season, Pelfrey feels normal

Righty confident he'll bounce back, trying to increase tempo in between pitches

After struggling last season, Pelfrey feels normal

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mike Pelfrey is just happy to feel, as he puts it, normal, again this Spring Training.

Pelfrey can already feel a big difference from last year, when he was making a speedy recovery from Tommy John surgery performed in May 2012.

Pelfrey was ready in time for Spring Training last year just nine months after his surgery, and he made his Grapefruit League debut on Feb. 26, 2013. However, the right-hander was still cautious with his elbow and was working on his command.

This year, Pelfrey said he doesn't even think about his elbow, and he looked crisp as the Twins opened up Grapefruit League play Friday afternoon against the Red Sox at JetBlue Park.

The right-hander tossed two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit -- a single to left field by Mike Napoli -- while throwing 13 of his 20 pitches for strikes.

"I feel normal," Pelfrey said. "I have a scar to remind me, but I don't really ever see it. So I feel normal. I feel good. I expect to be a lot better than I was last year."

Pelfrey, who signed a two-year, $11 million deal in the offseason to remain in Minnesota, added he can already tell his command has improved from last year, as he's already mixing in his slider for strikes this spring. Pelfrey was hit hard last Spring Training, posting a 5.40 ERA in six outings, and he didn't fare much better during the regular season with a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts.

However, Pelfrey is confident that he'll bounce back this season, as he's another year removed from the surgery and is pleased with the way his arm feels early in spring.

"I think I threw the slider six or seven times today, and I think four or five of them were strikes, and I don't know if I threw six offspeed [pitches] for strikes all of Spring Training last year," Pelfrey said. "So it's definitely different. I don't know what my velocity was today, but it felt a lot better than last year at this time. So it's hopefully it's something I can build on and get better. But I feel like I'm in a better place than this time last year."

Pelfrey, 30, said one of his main focuses this year is working on his tempo on the mound, as it was something that manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson harped on last season.

Pelfrey took 24.6 seconds in between pitches last year, which was nearly three seconds more than his career average of 21.7 seconds per pitch, according to Fangraphs.com. Pelfrey said he wasn't told what his time between pitches was on Friday but that the coaching staff told him it was much better than last year.

"The tempo was probably one of the better things today," Pelfrey said. "I think it helps the guys behind you. I think that was pretty evident today. They made some good plays on some balls that were hit hard. Hopefully I'll just keep the same tempo and build off of there."

Pelfrey, though, knows it's more than just the tempo he needs to improve after his struggles over 152 2/3 innings last season. Pelfrey reached the seven-inning mark in just two of his 29 outings and never recorded an out in the eighth inning or beyond all season.

Pelfrey was better in the second half of the year with a 3.25 ERA in five July starts and a 3.60 ERA in six August starts before faltering in September with a 7.45 ERA in four outings.

Pelfrey also fared better using advanced metrics such as Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which measures what a player's ERA should have looked like based on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed. He had a 3.99 FIP, as he still had strong peripheral stats and was hurt by a .337 batting average on balls on play (BABIP). The league average BABIP is roughly .300.

So with improved command, better tempo and a healthy elbow, Pelfrey believes he can put last year behind him and return to form this season.

"Hopefully there's a lot less thinking on the mound," Pelfrey said. "I have some more certainty, and so hopefully the games will speed up a little more, too. I think if you look at the innings and the ERA -- both of them were career-worsts -- I don't think it's a good indication of what I can do. So I'm excited to go out there and definitely have a better year."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.