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After tough 1st season with Twins, RHP Mike Pelfrey hopes to bounce back in revamped rotation

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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Mike Pelfrey looks at his right elbow and sees the scar from ligament replacement surgery.

Now, after a rough first season following that operation, the Minnesota Twins right-hander says he feels normal.

"I've got a little scar to remind me," he said, "but, besides that, you'd never know."

Pelfrey went 5-13 with a 5.17 ERA in his first season with Minnesota, making $4.1 million. He re-signed for two years at $11 million with the belief that pitchers usually improve in their second season after Tommy John surgery.

The Twins, whose starters had the worst ERA in the majors last season, hope that's true of Pelfrey.

"Last spring he was about nine months or so past Tommy John and he was getting frustrated by what his velocity was and what his stuff was," Minnesota pitching coach Rick Anderson said, "and I said, 'it's a process, man.'

"By midseason, he was jumping it up at 92, 93, 94 miles an hour and then he tired at the end and we shut him down."

Still, Pelfrey made 29 starts and had a career-high strikeout rate of six per nine innings, but batters hit .300 against him.

After the Twins added Ricky Nolasco from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Phil Hughes from the New York Yankees, Pelfrey figures to be the fourth starter in a revamped, veteran rotation that includes Kevin Correia.

Hughes also is coming off a poor season in which he went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA.

But new catcher Kurt Suzuki doesn't think Hughes or Pelfrey has anything to prove.

"Their job is to go out there and give us a chance to win and I think that they don't need to prove something to anybody," Suzuki said. "They have that respect. They go out there. They pitch their innings. They've shown their durability. They deserve respect."

From 2008-11, Pelfrey made at least 31 starts in four straight seasons for the New York Mets. He had at least 10 wins in three of them. His best season was 2010 when he went 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA while allowing 12 home runs in a career-high 204 innings.

But he was just 7-13 the next year then pitched in only three games in 2012 before suffering the injury that led to his operation.

"Last year I knew going in there was some uncertainty," Pelfrey said. "Coming off this off-season, I feel really good. I feel normal, which is the best way I could describe it. So I definitely think it's going to be a lot better."

The Twins were 66-96 last season, their third straight with fewer than 70 wins. But Pelfrey wanted to come back.

"Last year was bad, but I think if you look around, not a lot of guys had good years," Pelfrey said. "Joe Mauer had his normal year, hit .324. Outside of that I don't know of too many who had a good year. If guys go back and have normal years, I think we'll be a lot better, and the pitching staff got a lot better.

"Last year I don't think people thought the A's are going to make the playoffs or you go a couple of years back, you don't think the Giants are going to win the World Series. It's just a matter of going out there and performing. You never know. We might all have career years and win 100 games. This organization is headed in the right direction."

Pelfrey started Minnesota's third game last year and got the win in an 8-2 victory. He was 3-3 through his first six starts but went just 2-10 the rest of the way.

He expects to be much better now that his surgery is farther in the past.

"We're excited," Anderson said. "With Tommy John, you hear from everyone, it's always the second year that you're going to see improvement."

Suzuki expects that.

"I'm really excited to catch him and see how he does this year," the catcher said. "It seems like he's going to be due for a big year."

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