Pineda, Tanaka are double trouble for Cubs

NEW YORK -- The pine-tar questions won't go away for a while, particularly since Michael Pineda's next start figures to be at Fenway Park. But there's a more significant Pineda story developing here.

Quite simply, the 25-year-old right-hander is (finally) off to a great start with the Yankees.

In the middle of a big day for Yankees pitching, team president Randy Levine said Wednesday afternoon: "He's exactly what we thought he'd be."

Levine was talking about Masahiro Tanaka, the $155 million (and also 25-year-old) Yankees right-hander from Japan. He could just as well have been referring to Pineda.

Tanaka, who threw eight shutout innings against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday afternoon, is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA through his first three Yankees starts. Pineda, who threw six shutout innings against the Cubs Wednesday night, is 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA through his first three starts.

Put it together, and the Yankees had their first doubleheader shutout since 1987 (against the Royals). They have their first back-to-back shutouts since 2009 (against the Red Sox).

They had reason for optimism about the future and the present.

And they had more reason to believe that Pineda really can make it all the way back (or already has) from shoulder surgery.

He didn't throw a pitch for them for two seasons after being the feature acquisition in a big trade with the Mariners. He had an encouraging spring, but there was still no way to say with any confidence how he'd look when it counted.

Now, three starts in, we have some pretty good evidence.

"I feel really good, happy," he said. "I've thrown the ball great for three starts."

He gave up one run in six innings against the Blue Jays. He gave up one run in six innings against the Red Sox. Wednesday, he gave up no runs in six innings against the Cubs.

The Cubs are bad. The two shutouts Wednesday (3-0 in the first game, 2-0 in the second) were their third and fourth in just 14 games so far this season. Their lineup is filled with names you either don't recognize or know and don't care for.

Still, this was a significant start for Pineda.

For one thing, the Dominican Republic native was pitching in cold weather that he has rarely experienced. For another, there were all those pine-tar questions.

They arose after television cameras showed a substance on Pineda's right hand during his start against the Red Sox last Friday. Pineda seemed to have washed his hand later in the game, and the Red Sox themselves never complained.

But it became an issue, and quite a few people wondered how Pineda would react. You can count Yankees manager Joe Girardi in that group.

"I think there was a little concern," Girardi said. "I haven't known him long enough to know how he'd respond."

Remember, the Yankees traded for Pineda in January 2012, giving up Jesus Montero, who at the time was their most highly regarded prospect. Two years later, Girardi still doesn't feel like he knows Pineda well.

He's getting to know him, though, and getting to appreciate what he sees. He pulled Pineda after 89 pitches Wednesday, citing the cold weather but also the two years off. The Yankees know that after two years without pitching, Pineda might not be able to make it through a full season in 2014.

They haven't set an innings limit, but they have vowed to be careful. The way he's throwing, they'd like to see him make as many starts as possible.

If he has more starts like these first three, the pine-tar questions might even go away.

Shutout story: The Yankees haven't had three straight shutouts since June 1962, when Ralph Terry and Bill Stafford beat the Indians, and Whitey Ford and Jim Coates combined to blank the Orioles.