Pelfrey's brief start makes for long night

Pelfrey's brief start makes for long night

PHOENIX -- The Mets' lineup was complete Monday for the first time all season, which at first had seemed like a good thing. But manager Jerry Manuel made certain to issue a casual warning before the game, saying that he wished this day had come months earlier. Certainly not in mid-July.

The result, as Manuel had feared, was a loss -- though the lineup in fact had nothing to do with it. Instead, nearly all the blame went to starter Mike Pelfrey, who served up six runs and recorded four outs Monday in a 13-2 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field. By the time Pelfrey was finished, there was little that this lineup -- or any lineup -- could do.

"I definitely know that this isn't acceptable," Pelfrey said. "I made it extremely tough for my team. I'm sure they feel like they got kicked in the stomach in the second inning, when they look up at the scoreboard and it's 6-0. I definitely need to turn it around, and I need to do it very quickly."

For Pelfrey, this one was beyond ugly from the start. A single for Chris Young. An RBI double for Kelly Johnson. A walk for Justin Upton. An RBI triple for Mark Reynolds. And so on and so forth, batter after batter, until Pelfrey departed after allowing three of the first four batters in the second inning to reach base.

"For whatever reason, we have done well against him," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's around the plate. It was one of those days where they were picking the ball up well."

Afterward, after Pelfrey had more than three hours to ruminate on his 51-pitch, nine-batter first inning, he insisted that his stiff neck -- an injury that prompted the Mets to push his start back two days -- had nothing to do with his struggles.

This one, Pelfrey said, fell entirely on him.

"Physically, I'm good," Pelfrey said. "I'm just going through one of the worst stretches of my life."

As they have for much of this current four-start stretch in which Pelfrey is 0-3 with a 12.89 ERA, the Mets chalked his struggles up to a lack of fastball command. In a pointed chat with his sinkerballer earlier this week, Manuel implored Pelfrey to pound the strike zone with fastballs -- something he has been utterly unable to do.

"He's not a finesse guy," Manuel said. "He's not a trick guy. He's a power sinker guy, and that's what he's got to get back to."

"A well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball, and I love calling fastballs," catcher Rod Barajas said. "When a guy's struggling to locate and work ahead with it, then you have to figure out a different way. If we can get back to being aggressive with that fastball in the strike zone, then hopefully things will turn around."

It didn't help that the Mets mustered merely one run off D-backs starter Ian Kennedy, who lasted five innings. And it certainly didn't help that against the worst bullpen in the Major Leagues -- Arizona relievers entered Monday's play with a 6.78 ERA, more than a run and a half worse than any other team -- the Mets could organize no semblance of a rally.

The disappointment on that front was more symbolic than anything. For the first time since last May, the Mets were able to field a lineup that included David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Luis Castillo. The latter three have all recently returned from injuries of varying degrees.

But despite some modest production from that group, including two hits apiece for Reyes, Wright and Castillo, the Mets never could quite rally. Their most significant offense came from pinch-hitter Josh Thole, who walked in the fifth, and right fielder Angel Pagan, who drove Thole home with a single.

It took until the ninth for the Mets to score again, when Reyes doubled home Castillo to trim the deficit to 11.

To be sure, the Mets were hoping for more on this night, their first night together, an Opening Day of sorts. At the very least, they could have used the boost in morale.

"It's been a long time for us to be together," Reyes said. "It was a tough game today, but we've still got two more games in the series."

Optimism, it seems, was the only thing the Mets could muster on this night. But regarding Pelfrey, even that came in small doses.

"It's concerning, there's no doubt about it," Manuel said. "We're talking about a young man that we felt was an All-Star pitcher. To have those outings that he's had here lately, that's really discouraging. Because he's a guy that we're counting on very heavily down the stretch here to do what we need to do."

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