Throughout Mets training camp, manager Jerry Manuel and general manager Omar Minaya have identified Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez as the most pivotal components for the 2010 season. Pelfrey stands tallest among the three starters -- and not because he is 6-foot-7. He has the highest ceiling. He has been healthier than Maine, and, though he hasn't been particularly consistent, he has been far more reliable than Perez. And he is the only pitcher on the staff other than Johan Santana who has been characterized as a potential No. 1 starter.
Among all the pitchers the Mets will bring North this weekend, Pelfrey is likely to have the greatest impact -- positive or negative -- on New York's season. His is not an "as he goes, the Mets go" circumstance. But as one of the too many uncertainties that follow Santana and precede Pedro Feliciano and Francisco Rodriguez, Pelfrey can be the primary difference maker on a team that intends to create a difference from 2009.
MLB.com recently conducted a brief interview with the 26-year-old right-hander, who was the Mets' first-round selection -- the ninth player chosen overall -- in the 2005 First Year Player Draft. Excerpts of that interview follow:
MLB.com: I know you're not comfortable with the characterization of being the pitcher with the most influence on the season, the guy who can make the most difference, but do you agree with it?
Pelfrey: We all know what everyone's been saying, you know, that John and Ollie and I are really important, that we have to put it together for us to have the season we want. I honestly believe we will. Each one of us has had a pretty good season in the last few years (Maine and Perez won 15 games each in 2007, and Pelfrey had a 13-11 record and a 3.72 ERA in 2008). I don't know how likely it is for guys to be great at the same time. But why can't it happen?
MLB.com: OK, but do you think it is accurate to portray you as the guy most likely to have the big year?
Pelfrey: I know what people think and what they say, so yes. Potential-wise, I would think me. But potential does only so much. I don't want to go out and say 'It's gonna be me,' and tick off the other guys. We're in this together. We all have to have good years. It doesn't matter who's supposed to be best. I had a pretty good season two years ago, but those guys had better seasons the year before that.
If all three of us do what we're capable of, then no question, I think we run away with this thing. That's a bold statement; I know. Our No. 5 [Jon Niese] will be fine. And if the three of us pitch to our potential and we each win 15 games-plus and pitch a combined 800 innings, watch out.
MLB.com: Isn't that asking for a lot? The three of you combined for -- what -- 20 wins last year? And together you had a losing record.
Pelfrey: Yeah, but I had a really, really bad year -- not what you look for from a No. 2 starter. But I'm better for it now. It was tough struggling every fifth day. But now I feel good, I feel comfortable. I know I'm prepared to have the kind of season they expect from me.
MLB.com: What has you better prepared? You've lost weight. You've experienced adversity, failure. ... What is it?
Pelfrey: I have offspeed pitches I'm confident with now. It's taken me 26 years to get to where I am confident in something besides my two-seamer. I honestly think I got to the big leagues with one pitch, my power sinker. I had to develop the other one while I was in the big leagues.
MLB.com: You're really delighted with your split, aren't you?
Pelfrey: Yeah. It's a good pitch, something different the hitters have to think about. And I have my slider; it's better. And my curve. No one's looking for a first-pitch curve from me. And they might not see it. But then -- boom -- there it is. I know I've said this before, but my secondary stuff is better than it's ever been. And I still can get a ground ball when I need one with the two-seamer.
I was hit pretty hard the last two times out. I gave up home runs, and I'm pretty good about not giving them up. But I was working on my four-seamer, trying to throw it off the plate. I wasn't getting it off the plate enough. I threw it a lot, but you're not going to see it that much when it's crunch time. My sinker is my best pitch. I have to use it.
SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
The Mets spent most of their Spring Training playing the Marlins, Nationals and Cardinals. And now nine of their first 12 games in the regular season are against the same three opponents. By the time they oppose the Cubs at Citi Field April 19 and counting their exhibition schedule, the Mets will have played 14 games against the Marlins and Cardinals, eight against the Nationals and 15 against all the other teams in Bud Selig's universe.
The Mets' composite record against the three teams in 2009 was 21-24.
Interleague Play The games everyone watches -- the Yankees at the Mets and the Mets at the Yankees are scheduled for the third weekends of May and June. The first inter-borough, Interleague Interlude happens at Citi Field May 21-23. The Apple's baseball halves play again at Yankee Stadium June 18-20. The Mets won one of three games at the Stadium last year and were swept at Citi.
The Orioles (June 11-13 in Baltimore), Indians (June 15-17 in Cleveland), Tigers (June 22-24 at Citi) and Twins (June 25-27) are the Mets' other Interleague matchups.
Key home dates:
April 23-25 vs. Braves
May 25-27. vs. Phillies
Sept. 13-16. Jason Bay faces the Pirates
MLB.com: It seems you're taking a more sophisticated approach. Is that accurate?
Pelfrey: I think everyone would laugh if I said sophisticated. I'm just try to be smarter about it. We talk a lot among ourselves, and [pitching coach Dan Warthen] helps me so much, so now I have a better understanding of how to use the stuff I have. And the stuff is better than it was last year. I expect to be better, to have the kind of year a No. 2 starter should have. Last year, I fell way short of what I expected of myself.
But this year, I'm more prepared than ever before. The ball is jumping out of my hand. I feel like I will pitch like I did in the middle part of 2008. Just put he ball where I want to for seven innings and not even think about it. I pounded that sinker then.
MLB.com: What should a No. 2 starter accomplish?
Pelfrey: You should make at least 30 starts, complete a few. Your team should win a lot of your starts. There are gonna be days when you get beat because the other pitcher had a great game, or because the hits fall in or because you've have a bad day. But you should keep your team in the game most of the time. You'd like to think the team would win 65-70 percent of your starts.
MLB.com: Wouldn't that make you a No. 1?
Pelfrey: Not on this team with Johan.
MLB.com: Why the weight loss?
Pelfrey: I never thought I was out of shape. I wasn't. But maybe if I lost some weight and got stronger, it would make a difference. I might be stronger in the summer and pitch more innings. I put my mind to it, and I did it. It gives you a feeling of satisfaction. It puts it in your mind that you can do what you set out to do. Now I'm setting out to have a good year, and I'm going to have one.
MLB.com: How's your boy [Chase Pelfrey is seven months old]? Has he changed you?
Pelfrey: When I used to pitch bad games, I'd go home and not want to talk about it. My wife [Angela] was good about it. ... People might not see it like this. But we pitch every fifth day. So if we have a bad game it's like someone with a Monday-through-Friday job having a bad week. It gets under your skin.
But now, with him, I leave it at the park. I come home and he doesn't know If I won or got beat up. And he doesn't care either.
Pitching becomes more important, because I want everything to be the best for my wife and son. And the only way to make that happen is to win games. I think getting married and having Chase has made me happy and made me more serious. And I hope being happier and more serious makes me better pitcher, too.
MLB.com: OK. Thank you, Michael. Enjoy your season.
Pelfrey: Thanks, I'm gonna try.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.