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  • Will Mike Pelfrey be ready by opening day?

    Mike Pelfrey, or “the Big Pelf’ as he is called, towers at six feet, seven inches tall.

    Because of his substantial stature, it is likely that when Pelfrey starts saying that he will be ready to pitch by April this year, there is nary a person around to tell him otherwise. Even the Minnesota Twins figure that Pelfrey, who had Tommy John surgery in May 2012, will be ready by the opener, less than a year after the procedure.

    “If the season started tomorrow, I would have worked up to be ready at this point,” Pelfrey told MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. “Realistically, after 7 ½ months, I threw 90 pitches to hitters, so I could pitch [now]. They told me the other day, ‘No restrictions. You’re on the schedule with everybody else.’ That’s what I wanted.”

    He has reportedly thrown 40 mound sessions since the surgery and has zero setbacks thus far. There is no question that he is doing everything possible to be ready by April 1. An interesting comparison to Pelfrey’s development will be to monitor how the Chicago Cubs prepare for former Twin Scott Baker’s return from the same injury.

    When Baker was signed the past November, the Cubs raved about his progress. They were teeming with optimism that Baker would be a key component of the team’s success right away, mostly based on his rehabilitation.

    “There are no certainties with rehabs, but we spent quite a lot of time on the medical (evaluation) and (looking into) his rehab,” said Chicago team president Theo Epstein. “It was described by our medical staff as an ideal Tommy John’s rehab, so far. Knock on wood. Everything has gone perfectly so far. He’s really attacked it in an ideal manner.”

    Fast forward to yesterday and Chicago’s field staff communicated a different message. Manager Dale Sveum said that the team was planning on “babying” him through spring training and that Baker had an “above-average” chance of missing the start of the regular season.

    What does Scott Baker’s timeline have to do with Mike Pelfrey?

    Baker had his Tommy John surgery almost two week prior to Pelfrey. Like Pelfrey, Baker’s rehab was thought to be going exceptionally well. He was throwing off of flat ground by August 8 and was throwing from more than 120 feet in September. In November, following his signing, the Cubs officials expressed adulation of his progress.

    During the time Baker began throwing again last August, Pelfrey was in Wichita where he played college ball. There, he helped coach an 18-year-old local team who was heading to a national tournament. Pelfrey took the opportunity to tell reporters that the medical staff and Mets’ organization had advised him to shoot for a May 2012 return based on the 12-month timeline post-surgery, but his own personal goal would be to be ready by opening day.

    By the middle of August last year, reports emerged that Pelfrey would be throwing on flat ground “soon.” Already he was few weeks behind Baker’s timeline but it appeared to be slipping further off target. When the Twins signed him in December, Pelfrey told reporters that he was confident that he would be 100% by opening day.

    "I'm on track for Jan. 15. So everything is going well," Pelfrey told ESPN.com’s Adam Rubin. "Tim Hudson came back in seven months (from Tommy John surgery)…I'll definitely be ready when spring training rolls around."

    True, Hudson came back quickly, but his actual recovery time was a bit longer than what Pelfrey relayed to the press. While he did return to pitch in the minors for a brief spell 10 months after his 2008 Tommy John surgery day, it wasn’t until 12 months after his surgery date that Hudson was throwing in the majors again – and even that was September work with the off-season ahead of him to rest. Essentially, Hudson jumped into the marathon near the end of the finish line whereas Pelfrey is expecting to run up to the starting line of the race and toss 180-plus innings.

    Locally, fans will remember Joe Nathan’s slow return to form in 2011. Nathan received the gift of a new UCL in March 2010 and busted his butt to get back on the hill by the start of the 2011 season. Nathan said all the right things, just like Pelfrey: I don’t want to be babied, I feel great, etc. After a clean spring training, Nathan was brought to Minnesota in what turned out to be a premature decision. It took the Twins nearly two months of the season, three home runs, two blown saves and a 7.63 ERA, to realize that Nathan was not ready. He was sent to Rochester to break up some scar tissue and came back effective for the second-half of the season.

    This week, Baker reportedly threw 40 pitches at 70 percent effort in response to the Cubs’ babying program. Meanwhile, early dispatches from Fort Myers suggest the new Twin one-upped the former Twin and has overtaken him in the race for the return. In his first bullpen session of the year, Pelfrey threw 50 pitches.

    There are plenty of reasons why Pelfrey may actually comeback quicker than expected. His size suggests that he can take pressure off his arm. His relatively low injury history may mean he is less injury prone in general. He may have X-Men DNA and heal freakishly fast like Adrian Peterson. This is to say, every individual repairs themselves differently and at different intervals. Still, research tells us that the time to return to form from Tommy John surgery is 12-to-18 months. Hard work and great genes may help Pelfrey target May – closer to the one-year anniversary of his new elbow – but anything earlier than that could be risking a setback (like Joe Nathan).

    The Twins may be supportive to the public of Pelfrey’s return but, at the same time, gathering insurance quietly such as signing left-hander Rafael Perez, someone assistant GM Rob Antony believes can be stretched out into a starter, to a minor league contract. Perez -- along with Rich Harden and in-house candidates like Liam Hendriks, Cole DeVries and Sam Deduno -- may be the safety net the front office is preparing in the event Pelfrey is not ready by April.

    At his age and his relatively low injury-risk in general, Mike Pelfrey is almost certain to rebound. Never say never but, if history has any indication, the likelihood of him pitching effectively in April appears low.
    This article was originally published in blog: Will Mike Pelfrey be ready by opening day? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 48 Comments
    1. crarko's Avatar
      crarko -
      As I recall Baker had other arm trouble which was the original cause of the surgery, and the TJ decision came during that procedure. So he's probably a more complicated case than Pelfry.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      All of Baker's original injuries were UCL related and he had it replaced. Obviously each individual is different but the interesting part will be to see how the slow-and-steady approach compares to Pelfrey's.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      I find it inconsequential if Pelfrey ever throws a pitch for the Twins. He's terrible and every time I watch him pitch all I will be able to think about is all the decent SP that the Twins could have had if they were willing to spend just slightly more money.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      So, you are asking if I should trust the Twins' medical staff, or a different medical staff? It would be great if he could pitch, less time watching AAA-AAAA pitchers pitch, the better.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      So, you are asking if I should trust the Twins' medical staff, or a different medical staff?
      It's not medical staff that it in question. I'm just trying to temper expectations of when Pelfrey will be a contributor. Based on past TJ cases, 12 months is the time pitchers general return.

      The Cubs appear more open & accepting of the reality that it will be at least 12 months for Baker (possibly more). The Twins are - at least publicly - believing that Pelfrey will have accelerated his recovery time by one month (which is possible, I suppose). But they have been burned by that in the very recent past (Nathan). Behind closed doors, they may be making moves (like signing Perez) that suggests they are not 100% confident in his ability to contribute right away (or they simply could be adding pitching depth).
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Behind closed doors, they may be making moves (like signing Perez) that suggests they are not 100% confident in his ability to contribute right away (or they simply could be adding pitching depth).
      Bringing in Perez as potentially a SP replacement smacks of desperation. This makes the 1-year contract to Pelfrey without a team option all the more curious.

      Never say never but, if history has any indication, the likelihood of him pitching effectively in April appears low.
      If not Pelfrey, who is left to start out in April without a question mark when camp breaks?

      Kevin Correia. Our very own Ace Ventura, who unfortunately also has chiroptophobia (fear of bats).

      Parker, I hope you can find more encouraging health news about the other acquisitions and Diamond. IE, Any news on Worley and his arm problems, yet?
    1. Miraclemat's Avatar
      Miraclemat -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post
      It's not medical staff that it in question. I'm just trying to temper expectations of when Pelfrey will be a contributor. Based on past TJ cases, 12 months is the time pitchers general return.

      The Cubs appear more open & accepting of the reality that it will be at least 12 months for Baker (possibly more). The Twins are - at least publicly - believing that Pelfrey will have accelerated his recovery time by one month (which is possible, I suppose). But they have been burned by that in the very recent past (Nathan). Behind closed doors, they may be making moves (like signing Perez) that suggests they are not 100% confident in his ability to contribute right away (or they simply could be adding pitching depth).
      Pelfrey completely healthy would produce #3 starter numbers...maybe 4.5 ERA. 8-15 months after TJ and we can expect 5.5+ ERA at BEST. Not sure what Twins are thinking.....but he will not be viable option this season.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Wait, "The Big Pelf?" How did he get a Gardy nickname before actually playing here? No wonder the Twins have been enamored with him for so long.
    1. GCTF's Avatar
      GCTF -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      Wait, "The Big Pelf?" How did he get a Gardy nickname before actually playing here? No wonder the Twins have been enamored with him for so long.
      Pelfreysie was a bit much, even for Gardy.
    1. miller761's Avatar
      miller761 -
      Quote Originally Posted by crarko View Post
      As I recall Baker had other arm trouble which was the original cause of the surgery, and the TJ decision came during that procedure. So he's probably a more complicated case than Pelfry.
      It will be interesting to compare the progress of the 2 pitchers. I question Baker's durability and ability to stay on the field and off the injury report. Pelfrey will be much better in that area. I like the Perez signing - if nothing else he can be a big contributor to the bullpen as a lefty specialist. He always seemed to get us out in those situations when he was an Indian.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      There already are reports out of Chicago that Baker will not be ready for opening day. Perhaps the Twins are being too optimistic with Pelfrey but that is an interesting contrast between the two.
    1. TheLeviathan's Avatar
      TheLeviathan -
      Rumors are that they are pushing Baker back out of caution, not because they have to.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by TheLeviathan View Post
      Rumors are that they are pushing Baker back out of caution, not because they have to.
      That is probably a good thing for him in the long run. I like Pelfrey probably more than most but it does seem a little too quick.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      When the Twins signed Pelfrey I said I liked him on a one-year contract coming off TJ better than Baker, because his arm has shown much more strength and resilience over the course of his career. The fact that Pelf's timetable is apparently well ahead of Baker's – particularly considering he had the surgery a month later – would jibe with that. It's possible the Twins are being way too optimistic about Pelfrey but I've heard nothing to make me think their optimism is unfounded. As for Baker, if I were the Cubs I'd probably be taking it slow too. Guy's been fragile.
    1. Miraclemat's Avatar
      Miraclemat -
      Only reason to be optomistic about Pelfrey is if you feel he will be MORE effective after the surgery than when he was previously healthy.....that won't happen. This is wasted $$$$. I personally don't care if the Twins waste their money.....unless they are avoiding other guys because they are "out of money."
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      It's possible the Twins are being way too optimistic about Pelfrey but I've heard nothing to make me think their optimism is unfounded.
      Nick -- we hashed this out a bit on Twitter a few days ago -- but to clarify, my position is not a question of who would return to better form quicker. Personally, for many of the reasons you cited previously, Pelfrey is a probably better bet to recovery fully and thus a better signing option on a one-year deal than Baker.

      What I'm suggesting is that Pelfrey will not be effective if he pushes it for a April return. Studies have shown that tommy john takes 12-to-18 months to FULLY recover. Sure, pitchers have come back prior to that timeline but many have struggled (like Nathan) or did so in a limited capacity (like Hudson). The Cubs have already made plans to ease Baker into the rotation. Pelfrey seems to be pushing through.

      Also, with Baker, his recent laundry list of arm ailments revolved around his UCL -- which was replaced. In this case, that makes citing his previous injuries almost irrelevant.

      That said, as I type this, beat reporters are saying Pelfrey's live session was "impressive" and he "kept the ball down in the zone" (Rhett Bollinger & LaVelle Neal). Still, I'd rather the Twins hope for the best and plan for the worst.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      The fact that Pelf's timetable is apparently well ahead of Baker's – particularly considering he had the surgery a month later ...
      It likely isn't significant in this case, but the dates I've seen are only two weeks apart for Baker and Pelfrey's surgeries (April 17 and May 1).
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Parker Hageman View Post


      Still, I'd rather the Twins hope for the best and plan for the worst.
      I think the Twins have plenty of contingency plans--"...plenty of arms...".--Ryan.
      Consider all the the newly acquired pitchers, add those who spent some time last year on the Active Roster, and sprinkle in anybody else from Rochester and I conclude that Ryan indeed did "hope for the best, but [planned] for the worst." The "Plan" did not include winning 25 more games than 2012, it was "patch-over the present and develop for the future." It really doesn't matter if Pelfrey succeeds from April or June through the season, or succeeds at all in 2013. It's really about building a consistent winner for the future. Pelfrey (and others) are just placeholders until the fruition of "The Plan".
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      When beat writers or tv reporters say something other than PR work for the twins this spring, I will pay attention. Until then, I doubt I will believe anything they write. Call me cynical, but this spring is all PR from reporters so far.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Or perhaps the Pelfrey is saying the same optimistic things every athlete coming off major surgery says, "ahead of schedule" "no setbacks" "feeling great" "ready for opening day" and the Twins plan on letting him put his money where his mouth is, seeing as he's only on a one year deal. Gibson you baby, 2008 Liriano you baby, but a rental player? Obviously the Twins are willing to throw caution to the wind, they wrote this season off long ago. What does it really cost them if he has arm issues or is ineffective due to an early return? Had they insisted on an option year perhaps things would be different, but they didn't and they aren't.
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