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Tigers’ Mike Pelfrey didn’t pitch the 6th because of back tightness, will get an MRI

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Pelfrey’s outing was shortened but not before he handed Detroit a fantastic start.

MLB: Houston Astros at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT — As it turns out, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus didn’t pull Mike Pelfrey from Sunday’s win in the fifth to give him the warm and fuzzies of a good outing. No, he was yanked because of back tightness that the starter had been experiencing. He’ll undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury.

“We knew about it before the game, his back had tightened up a little bit,” Ausmus said. “We were able to get it loose enough to start the game and pitch five innings, but he was done (after that) because of the back.

After five innings, Pelfrey was at 82 pitches and had mixed his pitches well. Command-wise, he looked stronger and hadn’t allowed more than four pitches. The glaring difference was that he hadn’t allowed a run, something he’s accomplished in a start just once this season — June 24, when he went 4 1/3 innings and allowed just three hits in a 7-5 loss to the Indians.

In the third, two singles and a hit by pitch of Jose Altuve loaded the bases before Pelfrey stranded the only major scoring chance the Astros would get. He finished the day by retiring six of the last eight batters, his final out coming on a caught stealing of George Springer thanks to James McCann’s cannon for an arm.

For the tightness that Pelfrey was dealing with across five frames, he certainly didn’t show it. Oddly, no in-game announcement regarding the decision to pull Pelfrey was made, so the issue wasn’t known until after the game. The tightness was enough to warrant an MRI to determine the severity, but with the off day on Monday, there’s no rush for an answer.

Until the team gets the results of the MRI, Pelfrey is the usual day-to-day. Had Pelfrey not been dealing with the back issue, Ausmus would have sent the righty back out for the sixth, and while he was at 82 pitches he had been cruising.

Of course, that also comes with the warning label that Pelfrey erodes beyond 90 pitches and the third time through the order. The underlying concern with the MRI is the possibility of losing Pelfrey for any extended period of time.

Only six of Pelfrey’s 22 starts have seen him give up one-run-or-less, and four of those have come in July. He also served up two five-run starts (five runs in 1 2/3 innings on July 16, and five runs in five innings in his last start on July 26) but July has been his best month since April — and he had two fewer starts then.

Pelfrey is not a steady starter, but with few else options — barring a trade for an improvement — the team can’t afford to lose him as-is. And if he can start pitching like he did on Sunday despite the back issue, it’ll be an upgrade in itself.