The Mets knew they had issues heading into the season. Mike Pelfrey, however, didn't figure to be at the top of the list. In the span of two starts, Pelfrey has looked less like their No. 1 starter and more like their No. 1 concern.
The Opening Night flop was relatively easy to shrug off. Matched up against Marlins' ace Josh Johnson, too amped up, one bad pitch that resulted in a grand slam to John Buck.
Disappointing? Sure. But even Pelfrey, with a history of beating himself up, didn't lose much sleep over one bad start. Not with so many logical explanations for what went wrong.
Only now, after seeing Wednesday night's unraveling at Citizens Bank Park, there are indications that Pelfrey could be regressing. This time, he drew the Phillies' fifth starter, Joe Blanton, and did not record an out in the third.
"I was awful," Pelfrey said. "Obviously for the second time. I was bad last week, and I was even worse tonight, and I let them down again. This is not acceptable."
It was the second shortest outing of his career, and in trying to explain what went wrong, Pelfrey just sounded more confused. Rather than rely on his two best pitches, the two-seam fastball and splitter, Pelfrey inexplicably leaned on his third and fourth, the slider and curve.
That got him behind in the count, and the Phillies teed off for eight hits and seven runs.
"I just thought that I screwed around too much," Pelfrey said. "I can't do that. Obviously that's not my game.''
When asked why he veered off his usual course, Pelfrey paused for a moment, and then suggested he should have switched up some of Josh Thole's initial calls. "Ultimately it's on me," Pelfrey said. "I went along with everything. It's totally on me for going along."
That inner conflict was more like Pelfrey, circa 2009, when he got so frustrated at Coors Field one night that he ran laps in the stadium's parking lot after being pulled from the game. Compounding the problem this time was Pelfrey's slow burn on the mound, especially after botching Blanton's sacrifice bunt in the second inning.
With Pete Orr on first, Blanton popped up back to Pelfrey, who took a few steps off the mound, raised his glove -- and then let the ball drop. Pelfrey said later that he did it at the urging of David Wright, who was calling for a double play. But in rushing to pick up the ball, he fired a wild throw that skipped past Brad Emaus -- covering first -- and into rightfield.
"That obviously doesn't help when you can't field your position," Pelfrey said. "I just dug a bigger hole for myself."
With Phillies sprinting around the bases, Pelfrey pumped his fists in rage as he stood on the infield grass. When he returned to the mound, Pelfrey looked up, shouted in frustration, and waited for pitching coach Dan Warthen to join him for a talk.
During difficult times, Pelfrey often can be his own worst enemy. By obsessing over past mistakes he would sabotage the future. But last year, during his breakthrough 15-win season, Pelfrey found his way through that personal minefield with the help of the highly respected sports psychologist Harvey Dorfman.
But Dorfman died last month at age 75 after a long battle with chronic lung issues.
Fixing Pelfrey may be more difficult. "I always have that attitude out there, that I'm [ticked]," he said. "I just try not to show it. Sometimes it gets the best of me."