Commentary

It's too early to bail on Michael Pineda

Convenient injury? Maybe. But there's no reason to believe he's damaged goods.

Updated: April 1, 2012, 1:50 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The New York Yankees dodged a scalpel today when Michael Pineda's injury turned out to be treatable by rest, not surgery.

But that doesn't mean the GM who traded away Jesus to get him won't spend the rest of the season dodging bullets from Yankees fans. After all, he's the one who sold the cow for some magic beans.

The reaction to the shoulder tendinitis that will sideline Pineda for at least the next 15 days, and probably somewhat longer, has been laughably, and sadly, predictable.

Obviously, the Yankees got snookered in the trade that sent Jesus Montero, the Second Coming, to the Mariners in exchange for, as one "fan" Tweeted to me Saturday afternoon, "a broken-down pile."

Jack Zduriencik, that slickster, pawned off his damaged goods on poor Brian Cashman in exchange for the next Johnny Bench. Pineda can barely crack 90 on the radar gun while Montero is hitting .306, with two homers and 11 RBIs this spring for the Mariners.

Listen, if you want to postulate that the Yankees, well, "fabricated" this injury to Pineda to clear up their rotation logjam, or to give the youngster a little more time to get his act together before taking it to River Ave., I'm willing to play along. Admittedly, this has all worked out a little too conveniently for some people to swallow whole.

But if you want to try to convince me that the Yankees bought a rotten bunch of lemons here, that's where I get off.

I can understand where the theory comes from. For all the excellent personnel moves Cashman has made, all of his worst have involved pitchers. Kei Igawa, Javier Vazquez and A.J. Burnett, to name just his three most recent. And he certainly bought the whole lemonade stand when he signed Pedro Feliciano, who will be paid $8 million without ever throwing a pitch for the Yankees.

But I find it not only hard to believe, but highly unlikely that the Yankees failed to do their due diligence on Pineda before pulling the trigger on the trade that brought him here.

Michael Pineda
AP Photo/Kathy WillensUntil proven otherwise, Michael Pineda simply had a case of bad luck this weekend.

This is an organization (like many others) that routinely requests medicals on every free agent on the market, and has walked away from pitchers it was quite interested in, such as Ubaldo Jimenez, who wouldn't consent to an MRI.

And let's not forget the Yankees wouldn't even consider bidding on Roy Oswalt because of concerns about his recurrent back problems.

So you know they must have studied every bit of tape they could get on Pineda before agreeing to part with Montero, a player whom Cashman had repeatedly insisted he would trade only "if something very special came along."

Obviously, the Yankees thought Pineda was very special, and in spite of the injury, it is way too early to conclude that he is not.

They scrutinized his medical records out of Seattle -- he missed some of his 2009 minor league season with what was termed as "elbow strain" -- and subjected him to their own team physical, which he passed. (If you recall, Hideki Okajima, whom the Yankees signed in the hopes he might become another lefty in their bullpen, failed the physical and his deal was voided.)

This is not to say that Pineda's first two months as a Yankee have been flawless. Did he come to camp out of shape? Absolutely. Is he lazy? I have no idea. The Yankees say his work ethic is as strong as anyone's on their staff.

But that doesn't mean they weren't disappointed when he showed up in camp, he said, 10 pounds overweight, even if your eyes told you it was closer to 20.

And it doesn't mean they weren't mystified by the lack of fire on his fastball, which had shown some drop-off in the last game of 2011, which they attributed to the strain of having thrown 171 innings in his rookie season.

They accepted that in his 28th start, his heater might naturally cool to 91 mph, but they fully expected, and had every reason to expect, that by this spring it would return to the 95 mph range it had lived in before that game.

When it didn't, game after game, the Yankees began to suspect something might be wrong, and started to question Pineda about it. Every time, he told them the same thing: I'm fine. There's more in my arm than I'm showing you. When we get closer to Opening Day, you'll see it. You will get what you paid for.

There's no way to crawl inside the young man's head to find out what was really going on, or to hook him up to a polygraph or to slip some truth serum into his Gatorade. This isn't "CSI: Tampa" or the old "Superman" show, where you could spray a chemical under the bad guy's nose and he'd tell you everything.

They went by what their tapes and tests showed and by what the kid said.

Then, when he tried to turn the dogs loose Friday night, instead something came loose inside his shoulder. Maybe the talk about his diminished fastball got inside his head and he hurt himself overthrowing. Maybe it is what happens to some pitchers near the end of spring training, the so-called "dead-arm period." Hopefully, it really is something as benign as tendinitis, which is a fancy word for inflammation, which is just another way of saying he has a sore shoulder.

These things happen to pitchers all the time.

The fact that it happened to this pitcher, at this time, could be bad scouting, or bad forensic medicine or the end result of a bad trade.

Or it could be something else.

Until proved otherwise, my guess is what happened to Michael Pineda this weekend was simply a case of bad luck.

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.
Follow Wallace on Twitter »  Chat archive »

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

  • Trader Joes?
    It's in the Bombers' best interest to trade their dead wood by today's deadline.
  • Presidential Treatment
    Jeter got boots, a check and a visit from George W. Bush in his last game in Arlington.
  • Keep The Lights On
    The Mets have won 14 of 21, and their future is looking rather bright.
  • For Ryan Out Loud!
    Never mind the fact the Jets haven't made the playoffs in three years. It's July, Rex.
  • And Who, McAdoo?
    Beyond Eli Manning and Victor Cruz, who can Ben McAdoo count on?

ALSO SEE

MORE MLB HEADLINES