Michael Pineda’s fastball command wasn’t particularly good today, but he got through 2.2 scoreless innings, and Joe Girardi pointed out two key factors.
1. “You think about when a guy’s struggling with command and missing; he missed down all the time. You don’t get in as much trouble when you miss down.”
2. “I thought his slider and changeup were pretty good today, and that’s what helped him. He had the ability to get outs when he needed to.”
Not leaving pitches up in the zone helped Pineda avoid big hits (he gave up a few singles, but nothing damaging). Of his 48 pitches, 27 were strikes, but he walked just one batter. He was able to get back into counts when he had to, and some of that was an ability to get a slider over the plate early in a count.
“He’s working downhill,” Brian McCann said. “You know you’re feeling comfortable when you throw a 3-2 slider for strikes, to punch guys out. That there’s a pretty good indication that he’s doing whatever he wants with the baseball.”
This outing didn’t have a standout moment like that Miguel Cabrera strikeout from last time out, but Pineda did strikeout five of the 11 batters he faced, including Quintin Berry on a good slider in the third inning. Two offspeed pitches got Pineda ahead 0-2 against the last batter he faced before a fastball for a single that chased him from the game.
“I threw the ball down, you know?” Pineda said. “The best thing is that my shoulder is feeling good. That’s where I want to be. My shoulder is feeling good. I can pitch, I can compete in the game, and I’m happy with that.”
Girardi said the Yankees had Pineda’s fastball up to 93 mph (highest I saw on the broadcast was 92), and both Girardi and Pineda say they expect that velocity to increase a little bit as Pineda builds arm strength. Might not get back to where it was in Seattle, but then again, the Yankees believe Pineda’s changeup has improved significantly in the two years since he had shoulder surgery.
“It’s hard to tell because we didn’t see a whole lot the first year we had him,” Girardi said. “He was struggling. He wasn’t feeling great. His velocity wasn’t as high as it is now. So it was kind of tough, and (the changeup) was more of a work-in-progress then. But he’s had a couple of years to kind of get it going, and it’s improved.”
There were times today when Pineda threw a slow, loopy breaking ball that came in at 79 mph and looked more like a curveball than a slider, but Pineda said it’s the same slider, he just takes something off it early in counts when he wants to throw it for a called strike. He started throwing the slider more often later in the game because he was trying to slow himself down. He said he was getting too quick, and that was causing him to lose some control on the fastball. When he throws his slider, it forces him to slow down and get back on track.
“He’s taking steps in the right direction, and I want to see him continue to go in the right direction,” Girardi said. “It would be important for us, I tell you that.”
· After going 0-for-4 today, Derek Jeter’s spring batting average is down to .167. He’s had four hits, all of which came in consecutive at-bats March 6 and 7. He’s walked twice and struck out five times. “Timing is messed up,” Girardi said. “We’ve seen him pull some balls, and that’s kind of unusual. Older guys you don’t worry so much about early on in spring training.”
· Over in Clearwater, Ivan Nova allowed three runs on nine hits through five innings. “They weren’t hitting the ball hard,” Nova said. “I made good pitches. The hits weren’t too hard; a couple in the infield. If they’re going to it against you, it’s good to keep the ball on the ground. I think there was only one hard hit, the double. Otherwise it was good.”
· It’s worth noting with Nova that he walked no one and struck out six. He has 16 strikeouts and just two walks this spring. Pretty good.
· Also in Clearwater, Jacoby Ellsbury yanked his first spring home run out to right field today.
· Another really nice game for Francisco Cervelli. You can see video on MLB.com of him making a nice tag on a play at the plate — throw from left field, relay a little bit off line, Cervelli had to catch and immediately dive — and he also threw out a runner trying to steal second. “Cervy is capable of doing a lot of things,” Tony Pena said. “He has a great arm and he loves to use his arm. That was a tough pitch to handle and he was able to catch the ball and throw from his knees. Perfect throw.”
· Of the minor league free agent pitchers brought to camp, Chris Leroux has been an early standout. He pitched two hitless innings today. He walked none and struck out one. He has a 0.50 WHIP through eight innings. He’s struck out seven and has yet to walk anyone.
· Bryan Mitchell was also sent out of big league camp. He was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll open the year in Triple-A. He made just three Double-A starts last season.
· Eduardo Nunez stepped on the bag awkwardly and kind of hobbled a little bit during the Tampa game, but he said it was just an unusual landing and no injury concern at all. “I thought maybe too that the helmet hit him in the heel or something,” Girardi said, joking about the helmet that constantly flies off Nunez’s head.
· Might also have noticed Nunez bunting a lot this spring (he had a bunt single today). Nunez said he specifically worked on his bunting this offseason, and Brett Gardner gave him a useful tip about how to use his front and back feet while getting the bunt down.
· Box score notes: The Yankees beat the Orioles 6-0 at home. Dave Robertson struck out the only batter he faced. Bruce Billings pitched 2.2 scoreless with three strikeouts and no walks. Cesar Cabral finished with three strikeouts in the ninth. … Russ Canzler made an error but also made a nice play in the Orioles game. … Both Gardner and Zoilo Almonte had two hits, including a double apiece. Adonis Garcia had a hit in his only at-bat. He’s now hitting .474 this spring. … The Yankees lost to the Phillies 6-2 on the road. Preston Claiborne pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing three runs on four hits. Bryan Mitchell and Shane Greene pitched a scoreless inning apiece. Each had two strikeouts. … Scott Sizemore had another hit. He’s batting an even .300 since getting into games.
· Final word to Girardi about Pineda: “I think he figured some things out. I think when you’re rehabbing and you’re sitting down here in Tampa and you’re not doing what you want to do, I think you have some time to think about some things. And he was a young kid. Sometimes you can see the people that are pitching in the big leagues, you see the work that they put in and you can talk to some people, and I think he’s grown up some, definitely.”
Associated Press photos