First Pitch: Pineda, a season-changer?

June, 11, 2013
6/11/13
6:00
AM ET
In nearly half of his starts, the rookie had seven or more strikeouts. In 22 of his 28 starts, he pitched six or more innings. One May day in 2011, in the first game in which he ever took a major league at-bat, he dominated so thoroughly over seven scoreless innings in San Diego that he nearly reached base as many times as the entire Padres' lineup (he reached on an error at the plate and only allowed two hits and a walk on the hill).

If that Michael Pineda is showing up the Bronx soon, it could be a season-changer. That was the Seattle Mariner Pineda, who was an All-Star in 2011, and he is the one Yankees GM Brian Cashman still dreams of being a "right-handed version of CC."

[+] EnlargeMichael Pineda
John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY SportsIf Michael Pineda can pitch like he did in 2011, he would be a season-changer.
In 2013, the Yankees are doing well without Pineda. They head into Tuesday's series in Oakland tied with the A's for the wild card and just behind the Red Sox in the AL East. Their starting staff is strong, one through five, as David Phelps solidifies the back end of the rotation. Ivan Nova is revving his stuff back up at Triple-A, while Vidal Nuno, injured at the moment, has been more than solid.

But Pineda is the wild card and a potential co-ace.

In his first rehab start since his shoulder surgery, he had his precision, throwing strikes on 42 of 68 pitches and his fastball, reaching as high as 94 on Sunday in Tampa. With shoulder issues, the feel for pitches is usually the last thing to return. It is just one rehab start, but it could be a very good sign.

The most pressing issue facing the Yankees is not pitching. It is hitting. But the 24-year-old Pineda may be able to help the bats, too.

Pineda's presence could give Cashman a strong hand to play as trade talks heat up. They are not trading Pineda, but their starting depth may allow them to add an outfielder or a more suitable shortstop if Derek Jeter can't come back or is limited when he does return.

Before deciding on Pineda's immediate major league future, the Yankees plan on Pineda making five or six starts, with his next one coming Friday in either Tampa or Charleston.

"He has had a good rehab," Cashman said. "What that ultimately means, how he will be defined moving forward, I have no idea. Will he just be a healthy guy who is in the mix? Will he emerge as a high-end important starter going forward for us in the future, whether it is the near future or the future future? I have no idea. It is hard to predict. Right now, the most important thing is that he appears to be free and easy and healthy."

Just like spring training, Cashman said the Yankees are letting Pineda use his first three starts to build, while four through six will be scrutinized closer to see if the Yankees should put him in the rotation now or keep seasoning him. That is so when he does return, he feels like he did in the first half of 2011.

UP NOW: Derek Jeter is on the field.

ON DECK: Katie Sharp will have her feature "One Mo Time," looking at Mariano Rivera against the A's. That will be up at 11 a.m.

IN THE HOLE: At 10:10 p.m. ET, it will be CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.72) vs. Bartolo Colon (7-2, 3.14) on Tuesday night. Wednesday, it is Phil Hughes (3-4, 4.80) vs. Dan Straily (3-2, 4.67). On Thursday afternoon, it is Hiroki Kuroda (6-5, 2.84) vs. Jarrod Parker (5-6, 4.84). Wallace Matthews will have you covered.

QUESTION: What do you expect from Pineda in 2013?
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
12 2.51 135 129
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRM. Teixeira 21
RBIJ. Ellsbury 67
RB. Gardner 81
OPSB. Gardner .759
ERAH. Kuroda 3.81
SOM. Tanaka 135