I’m not sure what the odds would have been when camp opened, but by the time Joe Girardi settled in to make his rotation announcement this afternoon, it was fully expected that Michael Pineda had won the job. So today’s news came as no surprise.
Pineda will be the Yankees No. 5 starter. He will start the Saturday game in Toronto, one day after Masahiro Tanaka makes his major-league debut in the Blue Jays series opener. It will be Pineda’s first major-league game since 2011, and his first big league appearance with the Yankees.
“He threw extremely well,” Girardi said. “It was what we wanted to see from him. He improved with each outing, and at times was dominant. We really liked what we saw. … He has worked very hard the last two years. He’s excited about it but understands he has a job to do.”
David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno essentially move into competition for bullpen jobs, with Phelps and Warren basically locks for the big league roster in some sort of relief role.
Although the Yankees have previous acknowledged that Pineda won’t be cleared for 200 innings this season, Girardi said there will be no limits on him when the season starts. The Yankees are not going to limit him on the front end. Sounds like they’ll cross that bridge if/when they get there.
“He does not have an innings limit on him,” Girardi said. “We will watch how he’s doing and we’ll make judgments on what we have to do. This is a guy that has been to 175 innings before, so we know that he’s capable of handling that. It’s just, we’ve got to see how he’s responding.”
At 25 years old, Pineda has pitched to a 1.20 ERA and 1.00 WHIP this spring. He’s struck out 16, walked just one, and Girardi said the Yankees radar has clocked his fastball at 94 mph several times (TV radar has shown sitting closer to 90-91). The other candidates pitched well, but Pineda has earned the spot.
“I think we went into camp with an open mind,” Giradi said. “We weren’t sure what we were going to get from Michael. You look at a lot of other years, maybe one of those guys makes it as your fifth, because they all threw extremely well. But Michael, we thought, probably had the best spring. He’s a guy that has only started, but we weren’t going to make a decision on that; just because a guy had never pitched out of the bullpen, that that’s what we were going to do. We said all along we were going to take who we feel is going to be the best in the rotation and then we’ll figure out the bullpen.”
· Although Girardi wouldn’t guarantee them spots in the bullpen, it’s clear that the Yankees are planning to carry both Phelps and Warren as relievers. “There are no guarantees in life, but they’ve pitched really well,” Girardi said. Less certain is the upcoming role for Nuno, who is being considered as a bullpen option as well. “We’re going to look at him,” Girardi said. “We’re going to look at what gives us the 12 best.”
· Warren, Phelps and Nuno will each pitch today. Sounds like each one will likely pitch only an inning. It will be treated like a relief outing for each of them, Warren just happens to be pitching the first inning.
· Jcaoby Ellsbury came through today’s minor league game with no problems, and he’ll play at the minor league complex again tomorrow. Girardi said it’s possible Ellsbury will play the field tomorrow, but that largely depends on the weather. There’s a chance Ellsbury will play at the minor league complex the rest of spring just in case he has to go retroactively onto the disabled list, but Girardi said he’s confident Ellsbury will be ready for Opening Day. “I feel pretty good about it,” Girardi said. “But I can’t say I’m absolutely sure until we run him out in the outfield and see how he does. I feel pretty good about it”
· Catcher John Ryan Murphy has been sent down to minor league camp, but Girardi said he’s not yet ready to announce his big league backup catcher. Barring a trade, it would be stunning if it weren’t Francisco Cervelli. “I’ll announce it when the time is right, but he’s played extremely well,” Girardi said.
· Both Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka will pitch in Friday’s game. The plan is for Kuroda to go two innings — scaling back a little bit heading into his regular-season debut — while Tanaka will stretch out a little more. He’ll have seven days off before his first regular season start, so he’ll surely through a couple of bullpens in between.
· Girardi expects to wait until the very end of spring training before announcing his infield bench players. It still an extreme longshot that Brendan Ryan will be healthy enough to break camp.
· As scheduled, Tyler Austin returned to game action this afternoon. Slowed by a sore right wrist, Austin has been reassigned to minor league camp and played right field for the Double-A squad in today’s intrasquad game with Ellsbury getting regular at-bats. Gary Sanchez caught for the Double-A team in that game and he threw out a base stealer.
· Tomorrow’s travel squad for Dunedin:
Pitchers: Dellin Betances, Danny Burawa, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Chris Leroux, Fred Lewis, Jim Miller, Yoshinori Tateyama
Catchers: Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, John Ryan Murphy
Infielders: Dean Anna, Russ Canzler, Derek Jeter, Kelly Johnson, Eduardo Nunez, Brian Roberts, Scott Sizemore, Yangervis Solarte, Zelous Wheeler
Outfielders: Zoilo Almonte, Carlos Beltran, Adonis Garcia, Brett Gardner, Antoan Richardson, Alfonso Soriano
· Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Russ Canzler, 2B Eduardo Nunez, SS Dean Anna, 3B Scott Sizemore, LF Yangervis Solarte, CF Adonis Garcia, RF Zoilo Almonte, DH Zelous Wheeler
· Today’s scheduled relievers: David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley, Dave Robertson, Matt Daley, Fred Lewis, David Herndon and Shane Greene (with Jim Miller, Danny Burawa and Yoshinori Tateyama available in case that huge group can’t get through all nine)
Associated Press photos