Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey throws a live batting practice...

Mets starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey throws a live batting practice session during a spring training workout. (March 1, 2012) Credit: AP

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Mike Pelfrey's instructions were clear for Sunday's game against the Astros: Pick up the ball. Throw it hard.

As a pitching strategy, it was a bit unorthodox, to say the least. But Terry Collins said he wanted to see an uptick in velocity from Pelfrey, who has spent most of the past month trying to fine-tune his sinker.

The results were predictable. While it certainly appeared that Pelfrey had more zip on his fastball, the ball was coming off the Astros' bats with an equal or greater velocity.

The Astros thumped him for eight hits and eight runs in 22/3 innings as the Mets stumbled again in a 9-5 loss.

That pushed Pelfrey's ERA to 14.90 in three Grapefruit League starts, a disturbing number regardless of how meaningless it is supposed to be in the big picture.

"Of course I would love to get everybody out," said Pelfrey, who walked four and struck out four. "But I know that with every spring I've had, I don't know if I've ever had a good one, so it doesn't necessarily concern me that much. At the end of the day, velocity-wise and coming out of my hand, I thought today was the best day I've had. I know I definitely need to be better than that, but it felt good."

That's difficult to quantify with numbers. In the first inning, he allowed two walks, two doubles and two runs. Things actually got worse in the second inning, when four straight Astros reached base and Carlos Lee drilled an 0-and-1 quasi-sinker for a three-run homer. Pelfrey explained that he missed with his first sinker, and when he tried to go inside again, Lee crushed that pitch as though he knew exactly what was coming. Pelfrey estimated that he was off by "probably six inches."

"It's bad execution," said Pelfrey, who threw 47 strikes in 80 pitches. "With Carlos Lee, it was right down the middle, you know? I ended up yanking that ball and it ends up being flat, straight. When I throw it right, I get good movement. I get good action on it."

Pelfrey had been encouraged by his bullpen sessions, which have served as a laboratory for rediscovering the formula for his sinker. But Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen want to see him work his way back up to the mid-90s with his fastball, and that was their primary goal heading into the game.

"He's got such a good arm," Collins said. "I know he's trying to work on some things -- his sinker, making some pitches. But it's like if you're fast, and you don't run fast, you're not going to be fast. I don't want this guy to lose his fastball."

Pelfrey was right in saying that he's impossible to read by his spring training results. He also had a rough time leading up to the 2010 season but finished with a strong outing against the Rays -- six innings, one unearned run, four strikeouts -- and rode that momentum for a 10-1 first half.

"In my mind, in order to build up velocity, you have to throw harder," Pelfrey said. "But I yanked a lot of sinkers, and that might be a product of trying too hard. They weren't executed, which I think is the bigger problem."

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