Pelfrey Solid As Kernels Win 11th Straight

By Douglas Miles (Story) and Josh Christensen (Video)

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By Josh Christensen

CEDAR RAPIDS — Minnesota Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey arrived in Cedar Rapids on Monday to take the mound for a rehabilitation start for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, tasked not only with testing his healing back, but mindful of a text message from a current Kernel.

“I’m good friends with Tyler Grimes, he’s also another Wichita State guy that lives in Wichita,” Pelfrey said. “He texted me and said, ‘Hey, we’re on a 10-game win streak’ and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t need any extra pressure.’ I didn’t want to be the guy to end it.”

Pelfrey did his part, yielding just two hits, two runs, and no walks in a crisp 70-pitch performance over six innings to earn the win as the Kernels extended their winning streak to 11 games, 6-3, over Peoria before 2,246 fans at Veterans Memorial Stadium, which included a noticeable walk-up contingent.

The win streak is the longest for Cedar Rapids (51-28, 11-0 second half) since winning 13 straight in 2009 and their third straight series sweep.

“It was good, I got everything in that I usually do, you know, prepared the way I usually do, and it worked out well,” said Pelfrey, who reported no back discomfort following the game.

Pelfrey was 3-6 with a 6.11 earned run average before straining his back June 22 while running the day before his scheduled start. The Twins placed the 29-year-old on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to June 19.

The eight-year veteran and ninth overall pick in 2005 pitched his first seven seasons with the New York Mets, winning 15 games in 2010. Pelfrey missed almost all of 2012 following Tommy John surgery to repair a ligament in his pitching elbow, and signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Twins in December.

Pelfrey could return to the Twins rotation as early as Saturday, and judging from his night in Cedar Rapids, there was no evidence to the contrary despite an early mistake.

With two outs in the top of the first, Peoria’s Jacob Wilson hit his 12th home run this season when he crushed a Pelfrey fastball over the center field fence.

“The fastball command wasn’t great,” Pelfrey said. “I was kind of all over the place and you know no matter what level you’re at you can’t really get by with belt-high fastballs down the middle and he made me pay for it.”

From there, Pelfrey retired 13 straight and with a pitch count well below the club-imposed limit of 75, he returned for the sixth inning.

He gave up a leadoff triple and hit a batter, but retired the final three batters with just one run allowed.

He struck Wilson out looking, his sixth, to end his day.

“I was just starting to get the command of my fastball back, which is very important to have to succeed, obviously at the big-league level,” Pelfrey said. “I think at the end of the day I walked off feeling good.”

Pelfrey noted the convenience of having a close affiliate to the Twin Cities, which allowed his family to accompany him on the drive.

“They told me four hours, but I don’t think they factored in two little kids,” Pelfrey said with a laugh. “This is a nice facility, definitely one of the better ones I’ve played at in the minor leagues.”

Though Monday was his first trip to Cedar Rapids, the former Wichita State star had memories of many Missouri Valley tussles with Northern Iowa.

“It was cold days there,” Pelfrey said. “I remember them, we got snowed out one Friday, and we showed up Saturday and they were like shoveling snow off. I put my foot in front of the heater and burned a hole in my shoe. That was my memory of Northern Iowa.”

Kernels catcher Michael Quesada noted the differences in catching a big-leaguer.

“It makes my job a whole lot easier, I’ll tell you that,” Quesada said. “The ball’s heavier, the ball (has) a lot more movement, just everything’s down, everything’s where he wants to put it.”

Lefty Mason Melotakis relieved Pelfrey and gave up one run over the final three innings for his first save.

Max Kepler drove in two runs with an RBI triple and a solo home run, his third in 11 games.

Cedar Rapids begins a two-game series at Beloit today.

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