Terry Ryan is tired of me asking about Jason Marquis, and I suppose it’s understandable. Marquis hasn’t pitched for the Twins since May 20, 2012, and he was horrible. In that last start, the right-hander gave up eight earned runs on eight hits and a walk in 1.2 innings in a 14-6 loss to Milwaukee. The performance raised his ERA to an astonishing 8.47 and convinced the Twins to cut bait.
Marquis was released outright, meaning the Twins paid his entire $3 million salary, even after he signed with San Diego and pitched decently, going 6-7 with a 4.04 ERA in 15 starts. There is no assurance Marquis would have done that for the Twins, of course, but if he had, he would have been the second-best starter on the 2012 staff behind rookie Scott Diamond.
So I saw Ryan on Sunday, for the first time in months, and, as luck would have it, was compelled to ask him almost immediately about Marquis because the 2013 Twins have what seems to me an awfully similar situation with Mike Pelfrey, a veteran on a one-year deal who has been the worst starter on the staff – at least since Vance Worley was demoted to Triple-A Rochester on May 22.
“I’m not going to pretend to compare Marquis and Pelfrey,” Ryan said.
The background here is that when the Twins signed Marquis in the winter of 2011, I told Ryan he had made a terrific move. “You’re going to love Marquis,” I said. Smart pitcher with a deep competitive streak who can help some of your young guys learn to pitch in the majors, I said. So when he flopped I felt a little stupid. And then when he rebounded with the Padres I felt right. The GM and I talked privately last season about whether they gave up on him too soon and to Terry’s credit he has never seen it that way. For the Twins it was one of those I-don’t-care-if-he-wins-the-MVP-next-year situations; they were done with him (see: David Ortiz).
So the fact that Marquis is now 6-2 with a 3.82 ERA in 11 starts for the Padres is, in fact, irrelevant.
But the Pelfrey situation – he’s 3-6 with a 6.66 ERA in 11 starts – practically begs someone to ask: “What’s the difference between Pelfry and Marquis?”
“I think the biggest thing is Pelfrey’s coming off Tommy John; Marquis was not,” Ryan said Sunday.
And the Twins knew it when they signed him. Maybe they feel they need to stay the course, though one wonders if the Cubs feel that way about Scott Baker. Like Marquis, Pelfrey is a career NL guy, and moving to the AL, where a pitcher doesn’t face the other pitcher two or three times a game, sometimes is a difficult transition. Pelfrey is making $4 million on a one-year deal; Marquis was making $3 million.
But Pelfrey is essentially two seasons removed from his best, 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA and 204 innings for the Mets in 2010. Marquis has pitched for a lot of playoff teams, and won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2004, but his best season was 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA for that title-winning St. Louis team. He also doesn’t throw hard and doesn’t look, well, like Pelfrey, who at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds is a rare specimen. Pelfey also is 30, four years younger than Marquis.
Whether being on a one-year deal mitigates all these facts is for the Twins to decide.
“His stuff’s there, the location is not,” Ryan said. “He’s deep in counts.”
In his last start, Pelfrey threw 5.1 innings in a 3-0 loss to the Mariners. He in fact did what Twins coaches are begging their starters to do: He gave the Twins a chance to win. On the other hand, he labored, walking four and giving up six hits.
“The other night when he threw, we were all hoping he would pitch ahead,” Ryan said. “He had a lot of first-pitch strikes but unfortunately it evolved into deep counts, still. I’m not going to pretend to compare Marquis and Pelfrey. I’ll talk about Pelfry because he’s here. We’re going to give him opportunities because he’s coming off Tommy John. He’s got stuff. The other night he was touching 94 (mph), which was good to see. He didn’t pitch there but he’s touched it.”
There is one big difference between the Marquis and Pelfrey situations: The Twins have some viable candidates in Rochester. Last year they just didn’t know what they had in Sam Deduno or Cole De Vries – though Ryan denies the latter: “We knew a lot about De Vries; we’ve seen him since he was at Eden Prairie High School.” Well, they know more now. They also have Worley, for whom they traded Ben Revere so Worley could be a part of the rotation for several years, and Kyle Gibson, the team’s 2009 first-round draft pick who seems to have a bright future.
In that sense, maybe Pelfrey really is on borrowed time. Especially when one considers the Twins’ rotation seems to be falling into the same hole as last season’s, dead last in the majors with 287.1 innings pitched in 40 starts (do the math if you’re interested), with a combined 5.51ERA that trails only Milwaukee (5.60) and Toronto (5.56).
They’re also 18-22. Sound familiar? It does to Ron Gardenhire, who sat through this movie last year, when his biggest daily task seemed to be whether he should let his starter come out for the fifth.
“I think we all know that for us to have success we have to have the starts going into the second half of the game,” the manager said. “We’re just into June, and our bullpen is throwing too many innings – and it won’t last. They’re not going to be lights-out if you continue to pound them with innings.”
Here’s what I know, from afar and not being around the team much these days: Someone’s going to go. Worley will be back, and Gibson will finally make his major league debut. Pelfrey seems like the first guy in line for the gangplank, but the Twins are supportive as they can be under the circumstances.
My pet theory is that Marquis, who missed half of spring training because he was daughter was seriously injured, never put enough stock into what he was being told by Gardenhire and Rick Anderson. His mantra was “I know what I’m doing.”
Pelfrey seems genuinely at a loss and therefore open to suggestions, which all coaches like. That, to me, is why he is here and Marquis is in San Diego – though when presented this theory on Sunday, Ryan was skeptical.
“I’m not talking about that,” he said. “I wouldn’t start creating that type of stuff. I don’t know if Marquis wasn’t receiving the information. Pelfrey, he’s struggling, there’s no doubt about that. He’s got a big body and a big arm, he’s got velocity and all that stuff we would like, certainly, exhaust to the point where we can count on him to give us good outings.
“We’ve talked about Marquis; I’m not going to compare him to Pelfrey. But I’ll tell you the story about Marquis: We just decided we didn’t think it was going to happen.”
OK, then. Case closed.