Pelfrey realizing potential with Blanco
Mets starter, catcher proving to be productive pair
They come from opposite ends of the baseball world, one a journeyman catcher from Venezuela, the other an enigmatic pitcher from Kansas. One is 38 in the twilight of his career, the other 26 trying to fulfill the promise of a first-round draft pick.
Somehow, catcher Henry Blanco and pitcher Mike Pelfrey have hit it off and become a productive battery for the New York Mets.
Blanco was an afterthought free-agent signing over the winter, a backup catcher the Mets thought might bring some savvy to a young pitching staff. Pelfrey was an up-and-down right-hander, often battling himself as well as the other team.
Together, they have clicked. Pelfrey won his first four starts and added the first save of his career in a 20-inning marathon against St. Louis. He pieced together a stretch of 24 consecutive scoreless innings and had a Major League-best 0.69 earned run average in the final week of April. And he was effusive in his praise of Blanco, who massaged him along.
"He's pretty unbelievable back there," the pitcher said. "I'm probably not as good as he made it look. One of the big things is we talk between innings. That's big for learning. Henry Blanco is a student of the game, and it's meant the world to me."
From Blanco's perspective, it's all about communication.
"We work on the same page,"' the catcher said. "We talk all the time. It keeps him focused on the game. I try to help him out wherever I can. He throws the ball great. Sometimes you have to remind him to be aggressive. He's finally realizing that."
Pelfrey was the ninth pick in the first round of the 2005 Draft after starring at Wichita State University, where he was the only two-time winner of the Missouri Valley Conference pitcher of the year award. He went 12-3 with a 1.93 ERA in his senior year and was viewed as a can't-miss prospect.
But he struggled at the start, going 3-8 in his first full season. Pelfrey was sometimes rattled, and opponents took advantage of that. Blanco has helped him keep his eye on the prize when he's on the mound. As soon as the pitcher misses with a couple of deliveries, the catcher pays a visit to the mound.
"If he goes 2-and-0, I want to make sure he doesn't go 3-and-0," Blanco said. "I give him a moment to catch his breath."
It's a little thing, but it has been big for Pelfrey. He is working quicker this season and throwing with confidence.
"He's in a rhythm," manager Jerry Manuel said. "He's not talking those laps around the mound."
The most memorable laps for Pelfrey came a year ago when he was so frustrated following a dismal outing in Colorado that he ran laps outside the ballpark after being lifted. In another start in San Francisco, he committed three balks. Those episodes are in his rearview mirror now.
With newfound maturity, Pelfrey is confident enough to throw his sinker or his splitter in almost any count.
"He's learned to use both sides of the plate," Blanco said. "I've gotten to know him a lot better. He's becoming a complete pitcher."
So complete, in fact, that he became the first pitcher since John Candelaria in 1988 to earn two wins and a save in the span of five days. He was also the first full-time Mets starter to earn a save since Dwight Gooden did it against Chicago on Sept. 19, 1989.
Pelfrey's save came when the Mets ran out of pitchers in the 20-inning game. He had already thrown a bullpen session and lifted weights when he volunteered to relieve in the marathon. It helped that Blanco was catching at the time.
"It was either me or [outfielder Jeff] Francoeur," Pelfrey said. "Francoeur was the only one who wanted it to be Francoeur."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.