There were no tears or anything, but Michael Pineda actually got a little bit emotional tonight when he talked about at last winning a spot in the Yankees rotation.
“Today is a big day for me,” he said. “… I’m so excited because I remember in 2011 when this situation is happening, I’m so happy because I (was going to) play in the major leagues. The same thing today. I no pitch in the major leagues in two years, and I’m so happy today.”
After two years of rehabilitation, simulated games and minor league assignments, it’s easy to forget that three years ago — almost to the day — Pineda thought he’d arrived. He was 22, he’d pitched only a half season above Double-A, and the Mariners pushed him into their Opening Day rotation. He pitched so well in the first half that he made the All-Star team. Then he was traded to the Yankees, had surgery on a torn labrum, got a DUI in Tampa, and worked his way slowly back toward major-league consideration.
“I learn a lot, you know,” Pineda said, having taken his time before answering a question about the lessons along the way. “It’s hard. I learn a lot of situations that happen with me in the last two years. I learn because I’m a professional player, and I need to focus on baseball every day. Here, in the Dominican, in the offseason, whatever. I have to continue my work every day and be ready all the time, you know? … I’m a young guy but I grow a lot, because I’m a better person right now.”
With Pineda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees have three starting pitchers age 27 or younger. They’ve waited a long time to see what Pineda can do, and Pineda’s waited just as long to show them. His first call upon learning the news? His mother, of course.
“She’s so happy and she’s proud of me,” Pineda said. “She say, ‘The only thing I tell you is continue your job and have a good season this year.'”
· Masahiro Tanaka has not seemed overwhelmed yet this spring. Why should he seem that way about learning that he’ll face Toronto in his first major-league start? “I understand how good the lineup is for the Blue Jays,” Tanaka said. “But once I get on the mound, I just have to try to go out there and do my best. … Right now I’m not overly excited, but as we get closer to the game day I’m sure that excitement will come along.”
· David Phelps handled his assignment to the bullpen exactly as expected. He acknowledged that he’s disappointed, but he still believes he can play an important role. “My preference is just to help the team win,” he said. “Whatever role they need me, I’m willing to do. Like I’ve been saying from Day 1, it’s a matter of going and getting outs and helping this team win another championship.”
· Phelps said he was not told anything specific about his role, only that he’ll be in the big league bullpen. He’s not thinking about the possibility of getting spot starts or eventually moving into the rotation. “You don’t want to think like that because you don’t want to set someone up to fail,” he said. “As of right now, I’m in the bullpen so I’m just going to make the most of that.”
· In preparation for bullpen roles, Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno each pitched just one inning tonight. Warren and Phelps are basically locks for the big league pen, and Nuno is a candidate. Of course, Nuno also had his worst outing of the spring, allowing two-out solo home runs to both Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd.
· John Ryan Murphy was sent out of big league camp. He was officially optioned to Triple-A.
· Jacoby Ellsbury will not making tomorrow’s road trip to Dunedin. He will instead play in another minor league game. Ellsbury could play the field this time if the field’s not wet. “Today was the first step in the sense of just playing in a game,” he said after DHing in a minor league game this afternoon. “I’ve been running and sprinting, doing all that stuff. I’ve hit every day for the most part since I’ve been playing. It feels pretty good. That’s really all I can tell you guys at this point.”
· Brendan Ryan seems to have resigned himself to the fact he’s going to open the season on the disabled list. He got a cortisone shot a few days ago and said each day he’s felt “twice as good as I was the day before.” Even so, there’s just not enough time for him to get prepared for the season. “I’m definitely not pushing for anything,” he said. “Whatever’s best. Can you really roll into the season having eight at-bats? I don’t think that would be responsible to the team.” He said he’s still a few days from resuming hitting and throwing drills.
· Derek Jeter had hit tonight. Hadn’t had one of those in a while. He’s still hitting just .128 this spring. A lot of weak ground balls so far.
· Also potentially problematic, the Yankees infield defense was sloppy tonight. Kelly Johnson made two errors, one at third base and one when he had shifted over and was basically playing second base (or at least, up the middle on the first-base side of second). Scott Sizemore misplayed a ball at third base in the later innings.
· Thought I had some cool information for CC Sabathia, telling him today that there’s a minor leaguer named Rony Bautista who’s been nicknamed “CC” over at the complex because he’s also a big lefty with a fastball, slider, changeup combination. Turns out, Sabathia’s actually met Bautista and gave him a glove. “He’s bigger than me!” Sabathia said.
· Box score notes: A scoreless inning apiece for Warren, Dave Robertson, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley and David Herndon. Matt Daley allowed a run on two hits, Phelps allowed an unearned run and Shane Greene — who’s been terrific this spring — allowed two runs on three hits. … The Yankees went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, stranded 10 runners and lost 6-0. … Brett Gardner was easily the player of the day with a 3-for-3 game. He also threw out a base runner who had rounded too far past third base. … Dean Anna had another hit. He’s had quite a few lately. Not a ton of at-bats now that the regulars are playing almost every day, but he’s made the most of his chances late in camp. Johnson, Sizemore, Carlos Beltran and Brian Roberts also had hits. All singles.
· Final word has to go to Pineda: “It’s hard because when you have an injury, I feel a little sad because I love pitching and I love (to) compete, and I’m a little sad. But somebody tell me, ‘Don’t worry, man, you’ll be OK. All you need is working hard every day and you (will) be coming back.”
Associated Press photos