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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Make-or-break season for Pelfrey

Starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey pitches against the Nationals.

Starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey pitches against the Nationals. (April 9, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

It's getting to the point with Mike Pelfrey that his ability to take the ball every fifth day is not necessarily a good thing. Even if Woody Allen said 80 percent of life is just showing up, the Mets need more from Pelfrey, who is almost certainly gone after this season if he turns in another performance like last year's 7-13 clunker.

By choosing to tender Pelfrey a contract this winter -- a no-brainer move, really -- the Mets set the going rate on durability at $5.7 million. At the minimum, they hope that gets them in the neighborhood of 30 starts and 200 innings. Wins and ERA don't really enter the discussion.

The Mets talk of Pelfrey as if he is the Clydesdale of the rotation: A big, sturdy plow horse of a pitcher that munches innings and handles the heavy lifting over the course of a long, hot season. Often, it's not pretty.

That was the case again Monday night as Pelfrey got smacked around early, endured a 10-hit, three-run barrage by the Nationals and still got two outs deep into the sixth inning. By the time manager Terry Collins fetched him, Pelfrey had thrown 104 pitches. Kirk Nieuwenhuis got him off the hook with a tying two-run homer and the Mets went on to beat the Nats, 4-3.

"I just wanted to keep it going," Pelfrey said of the Mets' winning streak, now 4-0. "I got in a little trouble early, and we got down, and I was like, 'Oh man.' I tried to find a way to stay in the game as long as I could."

The Mets will take that for now. It's what they're used to getting from Pelfrey. They haven't come to expect much more.

"Last year, we threw a lot on his back, a lot on his shoulders," Collins said. "He obviously didn't come up with the wins that he wanted and probably didn't pitch like he wanted to. But he certainly took the ball every five days, never begged out, never questioned anything and went about his job professionally."

Maybe that was fine for those 77-85 Mets, but as general manager Sandy Alderson continues his rebuilding process, he's not going to be satisfied with someone just taking up space in the rotation. Collins told Pelfrey as much when he called him into the manager's office for a wake-up call last month.

"I'm not 22 anymore and they're not going to keep giving me a million chances," Pelfrey said last week. "So I need to perform if I want to be around."

Pelfrey froze Ian Desmond with a 95-mph fastball to kick off the first inning, but three straight singles in the first soon put the Mets in a 1-0 hole.

Pumping mostly mid-90s fastballs -- with the occasional changeup and slider -- Pelfrey retired the next five in a row. But the Nationals stung him for two more runs in the third inning on four more hits, including a triple by Jayson Werth that spurred the angriest boos of the night. Yes, even louder than the jeers for Jason Bay.

"I think early I missed a lot of pitches over the middle of the plate and you can't do that," Pelfrey said. "I think I need to be down a little bit more and keep it out of the middle and I think I'll be fine."

This was vintage Pelfrey: another workmanlike performance that left the Mets as close to defeat as to victory. There were a few glimmers of hope, however. Pelfrey only walked one and actually did a good job missing bats by tying a career high with eight strikeouts. The last time Pelfrey whiffed as many as eight in a game was against the Padres in 2010. That was en route to a 10-2 start to the first half.

Pelfrey finished 15-9 in 2010, the season that was supposed to change everything. Two years later, he's at a crossroads again, but headed in the other direction. "People forget things pretty quickly," Pelfrey said. "I know what I'm capable of."

The Mets think they know, too. Now it's up to Pelfrey to change their minds.

New York Sports