Before David Phelps faced hitters on the main field. Before Brian Roberts settled into his new locker. Before a van loaded with young pitchers made its way to the minor league complex for multiple rounds of batting practice. This Monday at Steinbrenner Field started with Michael Pineda throwing an early morning bullpen. No radar gun. No hitters in the box. Just a guy making his pitches sharper, getting his shoulder a little stronger, and giving the Yankees legitimate hope that they’re finally going to see him in New York.
“I thought the ball was coming out easier (than in previous years),” manager Joe Girardi said. “I know he’s had time to clean up a couple things too, mechanically, in this two-year span. He just looked like it came out free and easy to me. Didn’t look like he put a ton of effort into it, or that he was overthrowing it. … To me, it looked different than what I saw a couple years ago when he got hurt and was pitching in games. I’m anxious to see him obviously get in some games in the next 12 days or so.”
Pineda remains a curiosity around here. Girardi said his reports had Pineda hitting 93-94 mph with his fastball last season, but Pineda said he honestly has no idea how hard he’s throwing this spring. He feels strong. He feels like he’s throwing hard. But this isn’t a time for trying to hit big numbers on the radar gun.
“I’m feeling so strong. I’m feeling good power,” Pineda said. “… I’m throwing the same (as before the shoulder surgery). Mechanics the same. Everything is the same. All pitches are the same. I’m the same Michael Pineda.”
The same Michael Pineda. The Yankees would certainly like to hope so. When they traded for Pineda in January of 2012, they believed they were swapping an elite young hitter for an elite young pitcher. Pineda wasn’t a finished product, but his rookie year in Seattle had been encouraging. He threw hard with a promising slider, and he came to camp with a spot in the big league rotation.
But the arm strength wasn’t there, the spring results were sloppy, and eventually Pineda was complaining of shoulder soreness. He had surgery, spent the year rehabbing, and returned to the minor leagues last year to knock off the rust and finished off the rehabilitation. Now he’s in camp with an eye on a big league job again.
“:I’m happy because I’m going to make the team and help my team pitching in New York,” Pineda said.
The Yankees, of course, have not declared Pineda the favorite for the fifth-starter job — and you could make the case that David Phelps is the favorite considering he’s actually spent the past two years in the big leagues — but certainly Pineda is getting the most attention of all the fifth-starter candidates. He’s a big guy, with big potential, and he was part of a big trade. Attention and expectation come with the territory.
“We believe he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “But I still think you have to pay attention to it. You have to pay attention to all the signs that could be exhibited from not pitching, really, for two years. At times, maybe he needs an extra day or something, which won’t be a concern if it’s one extra day or two extra days. But he had a significant surgery, and you have to pay attention to it.”
Pineda said he feels no pain. He’s worked to clean up his mechanics to make sure his shoulder doesn’t regress and he doesn’t end up back on the disabled list. He’s gone through the long, exhausting rehab process.
“I’m throwing the ball good last year,” Pineda said. “But I don’t take a vacation last year. I’m doing all winter program, program, program, to make sure I don’t go back. Now everything is doing good, and I’m happy about that.”
Associated Press photo