Shaky early, Pelfrey finishes strong

Shaky early, Pelfrey finishes strong

HOUSTON -- Mike Pelfrey at least had a sense of humor about his early struggles in Detroit's 1-0 loss to the Astros on Friday night.

And given that reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel dropped eight shutout innings on the Tigers anyway, it's not as though Pelfrey had too much to lament about his six-inning effort in defeat.

"With [Keuchel] on the other side, it wasn't good enough," Pelfrey said. "Pretty impressive on his part with [our] lineup.

"The fifth and sixth were probably my best innings. Not hard to beat the first four, though," he quipped.

Still, Pelfrey bounced back from an opening nine outs that saw him put on 10 baserunners -- including a career-high-tying six via walks -- and still allow just a lone run. But perhaps more crucially, he saved a weary bullpen, a unit with 14 innings of work in the previous four days, by getting the Tigers to the late innings on 104 pitches.

"He knew we were short, and he was willing to go back out there for the seventh inning," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I didn't want to stick him out there, a couple guys get on, he's up over 110 and now I have to bring Buck [Farmer] in in the middle of a jam."

It might have been unlikely to even think about Pelfrey reaching the seventh after the game's opening third.

The veteran righty was all over the place, both mentally and with his command. The walks piled up, and so did his frustration. A tight strike zone and constant baserunners took a toll.

"I was obviously upset, but no matter what the umpire calls, I have to make pitches and not allow something to affect me in that manner," Pelfrey said. "Thought there were some close pitches, 50-50 ones, but that's how it goes sometimes."

Ausmus said that Pelfrey aimed just as much ire at his own performance, but he never thought his starter lost control.

"I think he was getting slightly frustrated with himself because he was yanking the ball across his body," Ausmus said. "Not really how you draw it, but we will take it. He did a great job of finding a way."

But suddenly, from the fourth inning on, Pelfrey's fastball found its mark, and his split-finger offering established itself enough to keep hitters guessing.

In his final three innings, Pelfrey allowed one hit, no walks and no runs, his team still right in the game despite facing an elite pitcher throwing a gem on his home field.

"Started throwing strikes, locating the fastball a little better. That split, I was able to throw it pretty good all night," Pelfrey said.

Still, was it all purely about "grinding" out his own start for Pelfrey, whose walks Ausmus called an anomaly, or was he really thinking about the bullpen situation? It wasn't a selfish endeavor, but the 11-year veteran says starters can't afford to think so logistically in the middle of their outings.

"Regardless of [bullpen situation], I think you want to go as deep as possible. You don't think about if they need you or not," Pelfrey said. "You want to get outs. I wasn't very efficient early on.

"I didn't know what was going to happen, but I knew I was going to keep battling, give everything I had, and [catcher Jarrod] Saltalamacchia had to baby-sit me for six innings. But we were able to get through it."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.