The wait is finally over for New York Yankees fans as manager Joe Girardi announced on Tuesday that Michael Pineda won the fifth starting rotation spot. Pineda looked dominant as he simply outshined David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno for the position by giving up only two earned runs while striking out 16 batters in 15 innings pitched in the Grapefruit League.
Though Pineda will round out the rotation to begin the year, he can quickly become the Yankees’ go-to guy in the rotation.
The Yankees’ starting rotation will undoubtedly be the most scrutinized in MLB with all of the headlines surrounding it. C.C. Sabathia returned to Spring Training thinner than ever after coming off of the worst season of his career. He had a subpar spring in Sabathia-standards, in which a noticeable decline in power was witnessed. Ivan Nova will be asked to replicate his 2013 performance and then some, and the $155 million man Masahiro Tanaka will be under the biggest microscope of them all.
Surprisingly, there is no pressure on Pineda. He hasn’t thrown in a big-league game in over two seasons. He has had tendinitis and a labral tear in his right shoulder that required surgery. Jesus Montero, the prospect traded to acquire Pineda, has been a shell of himself since leaving the Bronx. There aren’t high expectations for Pineda, which is exactly why he will thrive in 2014.
No one expects him to win 20 games or throw in the upper 90s, or even finish the season healthy. However, Pineda’s journey to make the starting rotation is reason for optimism. The 25-year-old has battled his way back from surgery in a short amount of time to regain his 2011 All-Star form. Pineda has been throwing gas in spring ball, topping 94 mph at times, and Girardi has stated that he believes the young Dominican native has much more velocity that will come out as the season progresses.
Outside of Tanaka, Pineda is the only power pitcher on the staff. Sabathia will now have to get batters out with guile rather than his typical overwhelming approach, Hiroki Kuroda and Tanaka will give some teams a chance to adapt to their Japanese hitch delivery in three- and four-game series, but Pineda will be able to surprise teams. No one has seen Pineda since 2011, and he was a rookie.
The Yankees have a wildcard in Pineda, who could become their most important pitcher come September. If he is able to stay healthy and translate his confidence from spring into the summer, I believe Pineda will exceed his current expectations and take the first step in becoming the team’s new workhorse.