Pelfrey surprised job was on line

Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey sits in the Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey sits in the dugout after being taken out of the game in the top of the sixth inning against the Rockies. (Apr. 11, 2011) Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

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JUPITER, Fla. -- For most players, it's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when spring training switches from simply getting your work in to pitching for your job.

Not for Mike Pelfrey. Not this year.

That precise moment occurred two days after his March 18 start in Kissimmee, where the Astros hammered him for eight runs in 2 2/3 innings to raise his ERA to 14.90. Terry Collins called Pelfrey into the manager's office that morning and delivered a not-so-subtle message.

"This front office isn't like the one you've had in years past," Pelfrey said Collins told him. "This kind of stuff isn't good. They want answers."

Gulp. Just like that, spring training didn't feel so much like spring training for Pelfrey anymore.

It was right around that time that the 28-year-old Pelfrey had become a topic among the club's decision-makers, who were kicking around the idea of releasing him before Opening Day to free up roughly $4 million, the non-guaranteed portion of his one-year, $5.7-million contract.

That discussion never got beyond the trial balloon stage, two Mets officials confirmed Friday. But the fact that it even was mentioned in the room was enough for Collins to pass it along to Pelfrey.

"My first reaction wasn't panic, like 'Oh my God, I want to know what's going on, what do they think is wrong with me?' " Pelfrey said. "I was OK. I felt fine. But I also thought I better get it going a little quicker. I better get after this.

"It was my understanding that I didn't have to compete for a job, that this was the time to work on stuff, my cutter, my circle changeup. Then when Terry talked to me, I was like, I better get some people out."

Pelfrey seemed to pitch his way out of danger in Thursday's rematch with the Astros, even if Houston traveled with a Triple-A lineup. He allowed one run and three hits in 61/3 innings. Of those 19 outs, 13 came on the ground, a strong indication that his sinker was working well.

All that's left for Pelfrey now is Tuesday's three-inning tune-up against the Yankees at Digital Domain Park. But Pelfrey, who was 7-13 with a 4.74 ERA last season, has been put on notice, and once the Mets believe they have a better alternative, he might not be spared again.

Chris Young, signed earlier this week, is on a rehab schedule from shoulder surgery that is expected to have him at 100 percent by the end of May. On Friday, the Mets optioned Chris Schwinden to Triple-A Buffalo and told Miguel Batista he will be on the Opening Day roster, presumably as a long reliever.

Otherwise, there are no immediate in-house threats to Pelfrey, who started on Opening Day last year and did win 15 games in 2010. That's why the manager's sense of urgency last week took him a bit by surprise. This is supposed to be just practice, right?

"I think it's stupid for spring training," Pelfrey said of putting a lot of stock in March numbers. "I take the ball for 32 starts a year and throw close to 200 innings, so I'm pretty dependable in that way. I'm thinking, 'Hey, if you don't want that . . . ' I've taken the ball every fifth day and I give you whatever I have. If I was terrible, or people didn't expect anything, they wouldn't be upset with me."

Then again, Pelfrey doesn't blame them, and he understands why the front office is skeptical. Sandy Alderson and Co. didn't draft Pelfrey, they inherited him. And their first look at him a year ago was not a great impression.

"Their job is to put the best team on the field that they can, and I know that I haven't performed maybe as well as I should have or could have," Pelfrey said. "Obviously, they were worried. I think Sandy's really smart, the people in the front office are really smart, and it's their job to explore every option, to look at everything.

"I know I'm not 22 anymore and my time is kind of running out. But I feel good this spring training and I'm excited about this season."

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