With Pelf On the Shelf, Mets Ride Schwinden to Denver and Houston

BY JOE RINI

With the curtain barely raised on the new season, Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey has exited the stage early in Act 1 of the 2012 baseball season. After dodging the injury bullet that had sniped at so many of his teammates since joining the Mets in 2006, Pelfrey underwent “Tommy John” surgery this week to repair the torn ligament in his right elbow, causing him to miss the remainder of this season.

Ironically, his season was shutdown just days after Pelfrey had pitched his best game of the young season as he allowed just one run in eight innings against the Giants on April 21. Since Pelfrey established himself in the Mets rotation in 2008, he has been a durable if not spectacular pitcher for the team.

In this pitching is a premium era, Pelfrey has been an innings eater, averaging 196 innings per season. Although his results have not always matched his durability, he pitched solidly in 2008 and 2010, so optimism for a bounceback year in 2012 after a disappointing 2011 was not unreasonable, especially with the former first round pick being eligible for free agency after this season.

However, without a contract for next season, Pelfrey may very well have thrown his last pitch in the orange and blue. With more heralded and younger pitching prospects such as Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, and Zach Wheeler in need of minor league seasoning, the Mets dug a little deeper down the depth chart and called up 25-year-old Chris Schwinden from the Triple A Buffalo Bisons to replace Pelfrey.

Schwinden pitched respectably in going 0-2 in four starts as a late season call-up for the Mets last September and had already thrown a complete game victory for the Buffalo Bisons this year. However, like someone being told that a winning lottery ticket was theirs to keep if they could find it in a minefield, Schwinden’s good news of being called up to the major leagues was tempered by the news that he had to pitch in hitter friendly Coors Field.

Schwinden allowed 5 earned runs in 4 innings as the Rockies crushed the Mets 18 to 9 on April 27. With his next start this week against the Houston Astros, Schwinden will need the same determination that enabled this relatively low draft pick (22nd round of the June 2008 draft) to make the majors, stay in the starting rotation.

Overall, the Mets rebounded from dropping a dismal double header to the Giants last week to sweep the Marlins and take two out of three from the Rockies in Denver before losing the first two of three against the Astros this week. Rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis continues to impress with his .300 plus batting average and stellar outfield play.

Johan Santana pitched 6 more shutout innings while Lucas Duda and Ike Davis showed signs of breaking out of their early season slumps. The Mets return to Citi Field on Friday, May 4 to play the Arizona Diamondbacks before hitting the road to play division rivals Philadelphia and Miami.