Mike'd Up: Pelfrey's gem helps Mets rebound

Mike'd Up: Pelfrey's gem helps Mets rebound

SAN DIEGO -- Of the two dozen outs Mike Pelfrey recorded on Tuesday night, a career-high eight of them were strikeouts. Nine were ground balls, two came on the bases, one was a line drive to shortstop and the other three were popups.

Because of that, center fielder Angel Pagan wasn't required to field a single ball until the ninth. He began stretching his legs in the outfield, shifting his weight, doing anything to keep fresh and alert. It was difficult.

"But I tell you what, man," Pagan said. "I'd rather have him throwing like that. It was unbelievable."

In firing eight innings of one-run ball against the Padres at PETCO Park, Pelfrey not only led the Mets to a 4-2 victory, but he solidified his spot as one of baseball's best young pitchers.

"Hopefully he can win the Cy Young," Pagan said. "I've got my money on Mike."

That may be a fool's bet with so many other talented candidates in the mix. But just the fact that Pagan drew the connection spoke volumes about Pelfrey's current place in the game. His stuff is as good as anyone's. His confidence is growing by the start. And he is quickly becoming a favorite to make the National League All-Star team in Anaheim.

His latest start was simply more of the same. Hardly facing any adversity, Pelfrey utilized five different pitches in dispatching the Padres, the only mark against him coming on David Eckstein's opposite-field double in the sixth.

Had Mets manager Jerry Manuel not insisted on finding work for his closer, Francisco Rodriguez, Pelfrey could have attempted to throw a complete game. As it was, he settled for 110 pitches over eight innings. One hundred and ten very good pitches over eight very good innings.

"He's turned himself into one of the premier pitchers in the National League," said third baseman David Wright, who homered off Padres starter Wade LeBlanc in the sixth. "I think he's always had the stuff. With him, it's just about having that confidence. And he has that now."

With plenty of thinking time in the outfield, Pagan and Jason Bay both considered that same point -- Pelfrey's stuff. Bay, who faced Pelfrey during Interleague Play last season, recalled how his Red Sox teammates spent that day puzzling over why Pelfrey's numbers weren't better. And Pagan reflected on a similar conversation he had with Albert Pujols this spring.

After Pujols faced Pelfrey in a Grapefruit League game, the game's best hitter began gushing about Pelfrey's abilities.

"When you've got a guy like that saying you're nasty, you're nasty," Pagan said. "You're pretty good."

The Mets received all the offense they needed from Wright, who also singled home a run in the first, and Ike Davis, who belted a letter-high fastball over the center-field fence for a two-run homer in the seventh. Pelfrey needed nothing more.

"I feel good about where I'm at and what's going on," he said. "But there's a lot of season left. I've got to continue to work. I've got to go out there and continue to perform."

One day earlier, roughly 500 miles up the Pacific coast in San Francisco, Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez masterfully outdueled Tim Lincecum to stake his claim as the top starter in the Major Leagues today.

But Pelfrey, as much as Roy Halladay or Jaime Garcia or Josh Johnson or anyone else, is emerging as a fine runner-up.

His credentials stack up with the best of them. In a dozen starts, Pelfrey is now 8-1. His eight wins rank for second in the Majors. His 2.39 ERA is good for ninth. In what many considered the most critical season of his young career, Pelfrey has quickly and efficiently evolved into an elite starting pitcher.

Call him a No. 2. On most other teams, he'd be an ace.

"He's become the whole package," Manuel said, comparing him to Jimenez and Johnson by name.

Unlike in years past, Pelfrey now has several reliable pitches -- most notably a splitter to complement his still-devastating sinker. And he has confidence. Swagger. He pitches quickly, and acts like an ace.

He may not quite be Jimenez or Halladay -- yet -- but he is edging toward that territory. And for a Mets team that really only needs him to be Johan Santana's sidekick, that is certainly more than enough.

"He's Lennie from Of Mice and Men," Bay said, referring to John Steinbeck's simple-minded but powerful character. "He doesn't even know his own strength."

Overhearing that comparison from across the room, Stanford-educated Chris Carter shook his head and dismissed it.

"Why?" Bay asked.

"Because he's smart," Carter quipped.

For the rest of the National League, perhaps that's what's most unsettling of all.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.