Commentary

Three things we learned about Pineda

Yankees' hurler had ready, definitive answer to all the questions -- for one day at least

Updated: March 5, 2012, 6:22 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Three things we learned about Michael Pineda on Monday:

He can handle the pressure of pitching before about 10,000 fans at Bright House Field.

The extra 10 pounds he brought with him to training camp don't seem to affect his stamina in a two-inning stint.

And man, does he have a big arm.

The first two don't mean much yet and that last is meant in the figurative sense, because everything about the 6-7, 280-pound Pineda is, understandably, larger than average.

[+] EnlargeMichael Pineda and Jimmy Rollins
AP Photo/Matt SlocumMichael Pineda allowed just one baserunner in his first outing as a Yankee.

But the stuff Pineda showed in his first outing as a Yankee? In an admittedly small sample, it looked huge.

Scouts seated behind home plate at the spring training home of the Philadelphia Phillies clocked Pineda's cutter at a rather modest 90-91 mph and his splitter at a pedestrian 86. But it was the effect Pineda's pitches had on the Phillies hitters that gave the impression that his repertoire could be as big as the man dealing it.

After Jimmy Rollins bounced a single over second base to lead off the home first, not another Phillie -- and they started their regulars -- came close to reaching base, although what looked like a bad call by second-base umpire Marty Foster robbed Pineda and the Yankees of what might have been a double play on Placido Polanco, the second batter Pineda faced.

But the 23-year-old who came to the Yankees bearing the burden of having cost them the next Yogi Berra -- that would be Jesus Montero -- shook it off to strike out Shane Victorino with his newly refined changeup and blew a fastball past Jim Thome to end the inning.

He was a lot tidier in the second, keeping Hunter Pence, Ty Wigginton and Domonic Brown from hitting the ball out of the infield. Asked if he was "nervous" before his first appearance as a Yankee, Pineda, whose command of English is limited, had no problem answering.

"Hell, no," he said, laughing.

As for his weight, which threatened to become a scandal before the game -- discussion of it took up a good part of Joe Girardi's pregame news conference -- that, too, was a non-issue after Pineda's 30-pitch (19 strikes) outing.

"I lost like eight pounds already," Pineda said. "I gotta lose maybe, two or four more."

So much for that.

And there never were any questions about the quality of his stuff, just the depth of his repertoire, which seemed limited to a fastball and slider. Since his arrival a couple of days before the reporting date for pitchers and catchers, the Yankees have been working to improve his changeup. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has tinkered with his grip, moving the ball back further in his hand, and Girardi said before the game he wanted to see Pineda "try it out a few times" in the game.

It turns out he threw it, he said, a half-dozen times in 30 pitches. Aside from the one that fanned Victorino, Pineda used it on Thome to set up the fastball that finished him off, and got Hunter Pence, who had hit long home runs off Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia in the first two games between the teams, to lunge at one and pop out to first base.

"Larry said to me, 'You have two great pitches,'" Pineda said. "'If you have command of the changeup, you'll be great.'"

"Well, he's pitched two innings with it so it's hard to tell right now," Rothschild said. "But I think he'll be fearless with it."

The thing is, Pineda doesn't have to be great for the Yankees, probably just as good as a No. 4 starter needs to be, but he may have to be fearless.

With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda designated the No. 1 and No. 2, and Ivan Nova, who won 16 games last year, probably the No. 3, Pineda can settle in comfortably at the back end of the rotation.

The real job is to get Pineda comfortable with the more pressure-packed environment of pitching in Yankee Stadium, especially coming from a market in which four reporters, at most, would gather at his locker after a regular-season appearance.

Monday, more than a dozen reporters backed him into his corner locker in the visitors clubhouse, a throng the size of which he had not seen, he said, "since the All-Star Game."

If there is a question about Pineda, it is how he will handle the daily crush of demands once the team returns to the Bronx.

"It's really hard to say until you get there," Girardi said. "I mean, he seems relaxed, he seems like he fits in. It doesn't seem like a whole lot bothers him. I think how you handle it sometimes depends on the start you get off to."

That is because often, the question is not how will a new player handle New York, but how will New York handle the new player?

This town loves its favorites, but can be rough on newcomers until they pass that uniquely New York rite of passage, the welcoming raspberries. Tino Martinez experienced it trying to replace Don Mattingly; Jason Giambi got it trying to replace Tino; Girardi even got it when he replaced Mike Stanley.

Will Pineda get it for "replacing" Montero, whose entire Yankees tenure consists of 69 major league plate appearances and a truckload of hype?

What if Montero busts out early in Seattle while Pineda struggles in New York?

That might turn out to be a much tougher test than performing for a few thousand senior citizens in Clearwater. But in his first day out as a Yankee, Michael Pineda had a ready, and definitive answer to all the nagging questions.

Hell, no.

For one day of spring training at least, that said it all.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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