As we all expected, Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced Tuesday that Michael Pineda has won the fifth starter job, and will finally get to start the season in the Yanks' rotation after missing the first two years of his Yankee career with a shoulder injury.
Pineda, who many considered to be the front-runner as long as he showed that he was healthy, cemented his spot in the rotation with a very good spring showing in the mound. He gave up just two earned runs in 15 innings -- 4 appearances, 3 starts -- while striking out 16 and walking just one.
His first start of the season will be against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto for the fifth game of the season. Girardi had announced yesterday that CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova will start the first three games of the season in Houston, and though he didn't say it, Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start on April 4th against the Blue Jays.
Pineda beat out a solid group of of opponents -- David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno -- but got the biggest competition from Phelps, who also made a very good case to be in the rotation with a 2.75 ERA in five spring starts. Phelps' last three starts have been pretty good, giving up just four runs in 15 innings. Phelps could have won a job in most other rotation with his performance this spring, but because Pineda was just as good and has more potential, he won the job.
“He threw extremely well,” Girardi said. “It was what we wanted to see from him. He improved with each outing, and at times was dominant. We really liked what we saw. … He has worked very hard the last two years. He’s excited about it but understands he has a job to do.”
Girardi said that the Yankees don't plan to have any innings limits on him this season, even though he did acknowledge that he won't surpass 200 innings.
“He does not have an innings limit on him,” Girardi said. “We will watch how he’s doing and we’ll make judgments on what we have to do. This is a guy that has been to 175 innings before, so we know that he’s capable of handling that. It’s just, we’ve got to see how he’s responding.”
Away from a statistical standpoint, Pineda's stuff has looked very good this spring, too. His slider has been his out-pitch, very much the way that Tanaka uses the splitter as his out-pitch.
Phelps' role with the team is pretty clear now; he'll head to the bullpen as a long relief man -- Adam Warren will likely join him there. Phelps' ability to pitch out of the bullpen also had a lot to do with the decision to name Pineda the fifth starter. Phelps can pitch well out of the 'pen, but we don't know if Pineda can do the same.
Either way, Pineda has not thrown a pitch an a real, regular season game for the Yankees since being acquired from the Seattle Mariners in 2012.
In that trade he was acquired in, the Yankees sent top prospect Jesus Montero over to Seattle along with Hector Noesi. New York got Pineda and Jose Campos in return. The trade has worked out for neither team, between the Pineda injury and Montero's struggles to him coming into camp this year 40 pounds overweight, reportedly.
While the Yankees can't wait to see Pineda in action, the Mariners have a totally different feel about the top prospect they acquired, with M's General Manager Jack Zdureincik saying that "I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.”
Pineda's last season in the majors saw him be named to the American League all-star team after going 8-6 with an ERA of 3.03 in the first half of the season, while striking out 113 and walking just 36. That might not be the kind of production the Yankees expect from him since he hasn't pitch in the majors since 2011, but a performance like that would be very much excepted, especially coming from their fifth starter.
Pineda made 10 starts across three level during a rehab stint last season, going 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA. He was showing the great ability to strike out people while limiting walks last season, too, striking out 41 in 40.2 inning, issuing just 14 walks.