TAMPA, Fla. -- If this Yankees camp hadn't evolved into Tanakamania, in addition to the spectacle of Derek Jeter's last waltz around the bases, we might have been in the midst of Pinedapalooza.
Because if there is one player about whom fans seem to have the most curiosity -- beyond the two rock stars in camp -- it is Michael Pineda, the 6-foot-7 right-hander the Yankees believed was good enough to part ways with Jesus Montero for.
"I thought he was great," CC Sabathia, Pineda's clubhouse neighbor, said of Pineda's rookie year with the Mariners. "When he is healthy, he is fantastic. People say he got tired the second half of that season, but that was his rookie year. It is hard to pitch that many innings. If he is healthy, I look forward to him being back to his old self."
But two springs later, Pineda still has yet to throw a pitch in the big leagues for the Yankees. In his first spring, he suffered a torn labrum and underwent serious shoulder surgery. Unlike with Tommy John surgery, which no longer ends careers, it is no slam dunk that Pineda will ever be the same, although the Yankees said he was throwing 93 miles per hour in some of his rehab work last summer.
This camp represents Pineda's Take 2 in pinstripes, although instead of being projected as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter or even a potential ace, Pineda now finds himself locked into the annual competition for the fifth and final rotation spot. (David Phelps and Adam Warren are the other contenders, with Vidal Nuno a possible fourth entrant.)
Pineda threw an early side session Monday before the clubhouse opened, a session that was not previously announced to the media. Consequently, few, if any, saw what Pineda did or for how long he did it. But Pineda does look a bit slimmer than he did in his first camp, when he showed up about 20 pounds overweight.
All general manager Brian Cashman would say about Pineda this offseason is that the Yankees expect him to compete for a job in the rotation, and if he turns out to be one of the top five starters in camp he will go north. Otherwise, it's a bus ticket to Scranton or Trenton for the big fella whose expectations have shrunk remarkably in the past two years.
Going live: Phelps, Warren, Nuno, Preston Claiborne and Jim Miller threw live batting practice to some of the catchers -- although not Brian McCann -- Monday morning on the main field at The Boss. Jose Gil, a 26-year-old Triple-A catcher, hit Nuno's first offering over the left-center field fence, which, as Joe Girardi would say, is not what you want.
Bottom of the barrel: The Yankees have started a new camp "competition" called the Catcher's Drop Counter, which seems like a way of needling McCann, in a good-natured way. The counter keeps track of pitches dropped by the catchers during bullpen sessions, and so far the standings are as follows:
John Ryan Murphy
2. Brian McCann
McCann has dropped one of 35 pitches so far. The others haven't dropped any.