Pelfrey to remain in Tigers rotation for now

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — Manager Brad Ausmus held firm after the Tigers’ 6-5 win over the Twins Sunday.

He was asked if struggling starter Mike Pelfrey would make his next start.

“At this point, there is no reason to think he wouldn’t,” Ausmus said.

The Tigers signed Pelfrey to a two-year, $16 million deal in the offseason. They believed he would be able to take the ball every fifth day and more times than not give the team a chance to win.

It hasn’t exactly gone that way.

Pelfrey was banged around again Sunday, this time by his former team. The Twins got to him for five runs and eight hits and he didn’t get an out in the fifth, leaving with the bases loaded.

“Two innings with crooked numbers,” Pelfrey said. “Not great on my part, by any means.”

In 251/3 innings covering five starts, he’s allowed 37 hits, 21 runs (16 earned) and, probably most disturbing and uncharacteristic, 15 walks.

Still, in the last two starts, he’s shown signs of being the pitcher the Tigers thought they signed.

“He did look a lot better today,” Victor Martinez said. “They put some good at-bats on him and he wasn’t able to make the big pitch at the right time. But he gave us a chance and we went out there and battled.

“He didn’t have his best stuff, but we all know how hard he works. He gave us a chance to come back today and win the game.”

It’s been a quirky start to the season for Pelfrey. The walks, for one, aren’t the norm. And with two outs, he has given up 11 runs and opponents are hitting over .400.

The first two runs Sunday came after two were out.

“It’s weird,” Pelfrey said. “I thought I had maybe the best stuff I had all year in my last start, and today I thought my stuff was even better. The results aren’t there, obviously, but I think I was better today.

“Still not good enough, though.”

He had good action on his sinker. His split-fingered pitch and slider were as sharp as they’ve been. Case in point was the third inning.

He gave up a single to Joe Mauer and a double to Miguel Sano to start the inning. But he struck out both Byung Ho Park and Oswaldo Arcia — using a deft mix of off-speed pitches (splitters and sliders). And he ended the inning by inducing a ground-out to first from Eduardo Escobar.

“There has been progress in his last two starts,” Ausmus said. “The first few innings he had a little trouble, then he was good in the third and fourth, and then stalled again in the fifth.”

It was two walks, a double by Joe Mauer and a ground-ball single by Sano that did him in in the fifth.

“Think about the balls that were hit,” Ausmus said. “He’s a ground-ball pitcher and sometimes those ground balls go through. When you have a sinker-ball pitcher, they give up a lot of hits, but they can get out of jams because they get more double plays.”

Still, Pelfrey has given up four or more runs in four of his five starts. And with Michael Fulmer and Matt Boyd both pitching well in spot duty — and with Shane Greene likely to miss just one more start before coming off the disabled list — the topic of a change in the rotation might come up.

“I don’t think anything hinges on (this start),” Ausmus said before the game.

He was asked before the game if Pelfrey had a longer leash because of the contract.

“I’m not worried about the contract,” Ausmus said. “It’s a performance-based game. Players have to perform. But again, you have to look at the track record. It’s one month, not even one month, really.”

He was asked the same question after the game and gave an even more direct answer.

“The contract has nothing to do with the decisions I make,” he said. “I don’t make a lineup out because a guy makes money. I make a lineup based on who can help us win and whether he is the best option at that particular position.”

Meanwhile, for Pelfrey, it’s back to work.

“Salty (catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia) said, ‘You were a lot better today than the last start,’ ” Pelfrey said. “But it’s not what I want. I will keep working to get better. I know how good this team is. I just want to do my part and fit in. I haven’t quite done that yet and it’s tough.”