© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

12/20/10 1:10 PM EST

Confident Pelfrey preparing to shoulder load

With Johan out a while, Mets will rely heavily on emerging righty

NEW YORK -- Pardon Mets righty Mike Pelfrey if he's a day or two late to Spring Training. His second child, a girl, is due to arrive right around this February's report date for pitchers and catchers.

"I'm glad I'll be leaving right after that," Pelfrey said, laughing. "That's going to be a handful."

Recently, Pelfrey's one-year-old son, Chase, has taken to waking him at ungodly hours of the morning, exploring the refrigerator and climbing on the furniture simply "because he knows he's not supposed to." For a first-time father, it's been a challenge -- but that hasn't stopped Pelfrey from working into better shape this autumn and winter. Coming off the best season of his four-year career, Pelfrey has already shed five pounds and is playing catch regularly.

"I've been going at it pretty hard," Pelfrey said from his home in Kansas late last week. "I feel strong. I'm looking forward to getting to Spring Training and getting after it. After the break, you start getting that itch to get out there again, and it's getting there."

When Pelfrey reflects on his 2010 season, he sees a campaign containing one bad month and five pretty good ones -- and that's more or less true. Take out the 0-3 record and 10.02 ERA that Pelfrey posted in July, and he would have finished the season 15-6 with a 2.95 mark, which would have ranked 11th in the league. As it was, Pelfrey finished 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA. And that grates on him.

Still, he took important steps forward in 2010, establishing himself not only as a successful veteran starter, but as the type of pitcher who can regularly provide more than 200 innings in a season. If the Mets have any designs on competing this season, they'll need Pelfrey again to provide that same sort of durability.

Thing is, they'll also need a little something more from Pelfrey, knowing Johan Santana will be out at least the first few months of the season recovering from shoulder surgery. Given his recent track record of success, Pelfrey most likely will be the one to take the ball on Opening Day in Santana's absence -- a responsibility both well-deserved and quite significant. But the club needs more from him. Considering the lack of depth on this staff, the Mets need Pelfrey to provide more than another 15-win season with a mid-three ERA. They need him, in other words, to take another step or two toward becoming an ace.

He's betting that he can.

"I feel strong," Pelfrey said. "I'm going to continue to progress and get myself ready for Spring Training and get myself ready for the first game of the season."

Though Pelfrey hasn't yet spoken to new manager Terry Collins, he applauds the move to bring Collins and new general manager Sandy Alderson into the fold. And he's quite certain that the offense, with a healthy Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay, can improve.

For Pelfrey, though, competing begins and ends with the pitching staff. He saw how the Phillies added Cliff Lee to their rotation, and he knows that his own club is weaker without Santana. But he's also pleased the Mets decided to keep pitching coach Dan Warthen on staff. He's confident that Alderson will add at least one more piece to the rotation. He's confident that R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese and Dillon Gee will all hold onto their gains from last season.

And most of all, he's confident in himself.

"I definitely think that we can keep our team in the game," Pelfrey said. "I think we're going to score runs. I think we have the talent to do it. I don't think you can look at this like a rebuilding year, because the talent is there."

It won't be easy -- Pelfrey knows that. But being a new father is not easy, either, and he seems to be managing that challenge just fine.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.