DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers knew what they were getting in Mike Pelfrey when they signed him this offseason. Even so, they likely didn't expect him to go winless in his first four starts. Part of that has to do with the lack of offensive support, but Pelfrey has struggled with his command. He may have figured out why.
"I think I noticed my first three starts my hands were at my waist from the stretch and the windup," Pelfrey said. "And all of last year I had my hands kind of up by my neck. That was kind of the one adjustment that I made (in my last bullpen), and I think it allowed me to get out front with my sinker, and have it be more live and stay on top of it a little more consistently."
Pelfrey is strictly a groundball pitcher. He relies on his sinker and to a lesser extent, his splitter, with a few sliders and curveball mixed in, to keep him out of trouble. He also depends on a strong defense behind him, which has been stellar for the most part this season.
None of his pitches have been working like they should, and until Tuesday night's start he hadn't made it into the fourth inning without giving up a run. After his poor performance on April 21 at Kansas City when he gave up five runs across five innings, manager Brad Ausmus decided to take matters into his own hands.
During Sunday's session, Ausmus decided to catch Pelfrey's bullpen to help diagnose what was wrong. Pelfrey acknowledged the position of his hands when he came set and during his windup were not where they've traditionally been in the past. It was one thing discussed by both in the session.
The change of his set position wasn't done by mistake. He had changed it during spring training, though he admitted he had no rhyme or reason as to why he altered his set point, and the change wasn't made at the behest of the Tigers pitching staff.
It wasn't until he went back and looked at video of his sessions this year and compared it to years past, that he realized the effect it was having on his ability to pitch accurately. Pelfrey has since gone back to bringing his hands up higher. It should also be noted that while his release point change wasn't extreme, it was slightly tighter on Tuesday than in his first three starts.
He's not entirely happy with how his command looks, but he's made progress. His arm path is shorter, allowing him to get out front easier than before. That wasn't his only adjustment, though. During his last start on Tuesday, Pelfrey changed where he was aiming. The result was more pitches consistently down and away.
"I lowered the target, in the game," he said. "Instead of aiming at (Jarrod Saltalamacchia's) glove, I aimed below the glove and it started biting again. I change it myself. Sometimes when he wants a slider (in one spot) I'll aim (slightly off) to get it there."
That game marked the first time Pelfrey has been able to make it into the seventh inning. He gave up three runs in the fourth, but they weren't entirely his fault. For once, the defense -- namely, Jose Iglesias -- failed him. Pelfrey had thrown more strikes during that start than in any other this year, but he admitted the command "still wasn't great." The quality of his strikes isn't where he'd like it to be.
During his last two starts, Pelfrey also felt like his splitter was flat. The movement wasn't there and he couldn't pinpoint it under or to the side of the strike zone like he wanted. So, he made a change shortly into his last game, by changing where he was physically setting his sights. The majority of consecutive pitches finished in the bottom of the zone.
That, and his fastball command, are what Pelfrey will be working on going forward. It was the goal for the day as Pelfrey prepped for a bullpen session on Thursday. Heading to Minnesota where he'll face his old team, Pelfrey may not be where he'd like to be, but at least he's not where he was last week.