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Under-the-radar Pelfrey could surprise in Detroit

MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- All eyes will be on Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris and other big names when the Tigers finally get into Spring Training games next week. By contrast, Mike Pelfrey takes the mound for the first time as a Tiger next Wednesday with relatively little fanfare.

The first time fans following from afar see the Tigers on television, they'll most likely see Pelfrey on the mound. While Detroit has split-squad games Wednesday, manager Brad Ausmus said it's "more than likely" Pelfrey will get the televised game against the Yankees that afternoon in Tampa, Fla.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- All eyes will be on Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris and other big names when the Tigers finally get into Spring Training games next week. By contrast, Mike Pelfrey takes the mound for the first time as a Tiger next Wednesday with relatively little fanfare.

The first time fans following from afar see the Tigers on television, they'll most likely see Pelfrey on the mound. While Detroit has split-squad games Wednesday, manager Brad Ausmus said it's "more than likely" Pelfrey will get the televised game against the Yankees that afternoon in Tampa, Fla.

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The first thing that will probably stand out for viewers is Pelfrey's height. For someone who isn't an overpowering pitcher, he's an intimidating presence at 6-foot-7. The Tigers hope there's a presence beyond the frame.

Aside from eyebrows raised by a two-year contract back in early December, there was little attention on Pelfrey among general manager Al Avila's free-agent moves. But the Tigers are looking for upside out of the former first-round Draft pick, who struggled through three seasons in Minnesota.

Tweet from @beckjason: Talked with Mike Pelfrey for this week's Tigers podcast: https://t.co/qCA58adVpY

"I feel like there's more there," Ausmus said. "Being a couple years out from [elbow] surgery, we hope, is a good omen. We think with the stuff he has that there's a little more in there.

"He's been a good big league pitcher, but we think he can really be a very good big league pitcher."

Pelfrey understandably feels the same way.

"I always say that when healthy, I feel like I can get people out," the big right-hander said, "and I feel good, so I expect some big things."

He's aware of his numbers, from a 6-11 record and a 4.26 ERA last year in Minnesota to an 11-27 record and a 4.94 ERA for his entire Twins tenure. But he also knows how he felt as he worked through last season, working himself back into shape after a nerve issue in his elbow resulted in essentially a lost season in 2014 and a rebuild in '15.

"I didn't know if I was necessarily going to be able to take the ball again for 30 times last year," Pelfrey said, "and I know [after] throwing the ball 20 innings in 2014, I kind of wore down there at the end, kind of struggled. I think it was more about command, but I feel like I can get back. I worked to get in shape, and I don't think it'll be as big of a deal to get back to 30 starts as it was last year."

Pelfrey's damage rose considerably from the first three innings of a game (3.39 ERA, .763 OPS) to the next three (5.60 ERA, .804 OPS). Likewise, his OPS allowed picked up from .718 his first trip through a lineup to .804 the next trip, more so on singles and doubles than home runs. His home run rate of 0.6 per nine innings led all qualified American League hurlers.

Indeed, he also struggled down the stretch, posting a 4.66 ERA after the All-Star break compared to 4.00 going into it.

"Heading into last year, I was coming off that surgery, so there was a little bit of fully getting back," Pelfrey said. "But I feel good now."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Detroit Tigers, Mike Pelfrey