Pelfrey perfect, Tigers not so much in loss to Yanks

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Mike Pelfrey warms up prior to the start of Wednesday's game in Tampa against the Yankees.

Tampa, Fla. — Mike Pelfrey is 6- foot-7, 240 pounds – not a small man.

But when Yankees prospect Aaron Judge stepped into the box in the third inning Wednesday, he had to do a double-take.

“That Judge guy, good Lord!” he said. “He could’ve been a football player. I just said, ‘Don’t let the big boy get extended or we might not see that ball again.’”

No worries. Judge, 6-7, 275, was one of the nine Yankees Pelfrey faced and quickly dispatched in his Tigers debut at Steinbrenner Field.

“It was fun to get back out there and compete again,” Pelfrey said. “Nice to see somebody besides your own guys. I just tried to work quick and get our offense back up there. It was fun to watch them hit off somebody besides the Twins or myself. I enjoyed that.”

The game got a bit loopy after Pelfrey left the scene. The Tigers’ split-squad team first blew a 7-0 lead, then a 9-8 lead in the ninth — losing on a misplayed two-out fly ball, 10-9.

“A lot of good things happened in this game,” acting manager Omar Vizquel said. “Overall it was a good game. Too bad we had to lose on that little play there in the last inning.”

Pelfrey threw 35 pitches, all sinkers and sliders, in three perfect innings. Five of the outs were ground balls and two, including Judge, were strikeouts.

“It’s early so I was just working on fastball (two-seam sinker) command,” he said. “I just went with sinkers and sliders. I didn’t throw any curves or splits. I worked on getting out front and locating. That was the whole idea today.”

When he left the game, the Tigers were up 6-0. Catcher Bryan Holaday, who finds himself in an odd predicament this spring, hit a grand slam home run off Yankees starter Luis Severino in a five-run second inning.

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Holaday, who added a double, is the Tigers third catcher and he’s out of minor league options. Barring injury to James McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia, he is most likely auditioning for other teams — though that’s not how his teammates see it.

“Right now, I don’t have any sympathy for him because he’s still fighting for a job,” said Ian Kinsler, whose home run in the fourth made it 7-0. “He’s made a lot of tremendous adjustments with his swing. Obviously, we know what he brings to this clubhouse, we know what a great dude he is. We know what he brings behind the plate. There is still a position to be won there.

“We will see what happens. We understand why Saltalamacchia is here and why Doc is here and what’s going on there. Just let it play out.”

The 7-0 lead was gone by the sixth inning.

Drew VerHagen and Blaine Hardy, two relievers who are expected to make the club, gave back five of the runs. VerHagen, credited with three of the runs and three hits, was victimized in part by a pop-up double that Justin Upton lost in the sun.

Hardy, who struggled with his control, gave up two runs and three hits.

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The Yankees tied it with two runs in the sixth off Jose Valdez and scored the go-ahead run in the seventh off Triple-A starter Thad Weber. Austin Romine, brother of Tigers Andrew, doubled and scored the go-ahead run.

It seemed like Steven Moya was going to rescue the day in the top of the ninth when he smacked a long, two-run home run well beyond the wall in right field, giving the Tigers a 9-8 lead.

But the Yankees scored twice off lefty Joe Mantiply, one of five pitchers brought over from the minor league camp. A leadoff triple to Jorge Mateo and RBI single by Romine tied it. The winning run scored when Jason Krizan misplayed a fly ball in medium-depth left field with two outs.

The takeaway from this one, though, was not the ugly ending. It was Pelfrey.

"He was very good, very aggressive," Vizquel said. "He was really going after hitters with his breaking ball (slider) and keeping his fastball down in the zone. He was very consistent with his pitches. If he can do that for seven innings he's going to be all right."