HOUSTON -- Mike Pelfrey has had trouble pitching deep into games recently, and it's becoming an uncomfortable trend for the Twins right-hander.
Pelfrey lasted just four innings against the Astros on Friday night, allowing seven runs on eight hits in an 8-0 loss at Minute Maid Park. It marked the fifth time over his last six starts that he's been unable to reach the six-inning mark, and he has a 6.35 ERA over that stretch. It's caused Pelfrey's ERA to rise to 4.17 on the year, which is the first time it's been above 4.00 since April 17.
"It's very frustrating," said Pelfrey, who threw 70 pitches, 42 for strikes. "I feel bad for the bullpen. They've had to pick me up for a month or however long it's been. It seems like forever. Obviously, the pitch count wasn't crazy high tonight, but I couldn't get anybody out. So it's just frustrating. I need to go deeper and be better and I haven't done that."
But the way he struggled against the Astros was rare, as he was hurt by a pair of homers -- a two-run blast from Colby Rasmus in the second and an opposite-field grand slam from Hank Conger in the fourth. He came into this start having allowed only seven homers in 142 2/3 innings, which was tied for the second-fewest homers allowed in the Majors for a pitcher with at least 140 innings this year.
"Usually I do a better job of keeping the ball in the park," Pelfrey said. "The one to Rasmus was belt high and he turned on it. The one to Conger was up but he was able to get it out, too. I put our team in a pretty big hole."
Twins manager Paul Molitor said he believes Pelfrey's struggles with his off-speed pitches have been problematic, as he's not able to put away hitters or pitch backward by starting off batters with breaking pitches. It's allowed teams to hone on his sinker, like the Astros did Friday.
"They're a team that really hunts the fastball," Molitor said. "It's hard to tell from the side how much he's missing his location. He was using it a lot early and they were on it."
Molitor said he doesn't think Pelfrey is wearing down -- he's on pace to throw his most innings since 2011 -- but that he's searching for confidence after a string of rough outings.
"I think right now he's struggling a bit confidence-wise," Molitor said. "I'm not sure if it's a late-season thing but he's not going in the right direction the last couple of starts for sure."
Pelfrey believes his struggles aren't because it's getting late in the year and said he's going to do whatever he can to get out of this rut in a crucial part of the season.
"It's weird because I thought my stuff was OK," Pelfrey said. "I feel good. I feel healthy. The results just haven't been there. So I'm just going to keep plugging away. Hopefully it'll turn around here soon."