TAMPA, Fla. – Workouts at George M. Steinbrenner Field began on Monday with right-hander Michael Pineda throwing his first bullpen of the spring, marking another attempt at the road to the Bronx that began two years ago.
Acquired prior to the 2012 season, Pineda has yet to throw a pitch in the regular season for the New York Yankees. After earning All-Star honors as a member of the Seattle Mariners in 2011, Pineda suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder during his first spring training with the Yankees, requiring surgery and extensive rehabilitation.
Now, Pineda enters camp not as a front-of-the-rotation option, but in a fight for the fifth starter’s spot with David Phelps and Adam Warren, each of which pitched well in New York last season.
The 25-year-old told reporters on Monday that he thinks he’s “the same Michael Pineda” as he was in 2011. However, that is not entirely true, and it may be a good thing. Pineda’s new manager, Joe Girardi, made a few observations about the differences in Pineda’s first bullpen session and his past outings.
"I thought the ball was coming out easier," Girardi said of Pineda's 35 pitch session. "I know he’s had time to clean up a couple things too, mechanically, in this two-year span. He just looked like it came out free and easy to me. It didn’t look like he put a ton of effort into it, or that he was overthrowing it."
Pineda came away rather satisfied with not just the outing, but his physical state as a whole.
“I’m feeling so strong. I’m feeling good power,” Pineda said. “… I’m throwing the same (as before the shoulder surgery). Mechanics the same. Everything is the same. All pitches are the same.”
Girardi indicated that despite Pineda’s declaration of being strong and healthy, his situation is one that the team must still keep a close eye on.
“We believe he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “But I still think you have to pay attention to it. You have to pay attention to all the signs that could be exhibited from not pitching, really, for two years. At times, maybe he needs an extra day or something, which won’t be a concern if it’s one extra day or two extra days. But he had a significant surgery, and you have to pay attention to it.”
If he is indeed healthy, Pineda should blow the doors off any competition for a fifth starter’s position, despite the fact that David Phelps has spent the past two years in New York, while Pineda has seen nothing but an operating table and minor league ballparks.
Joe Girardi did leave the door open for Pineda to pitch from the bullpen should Phelps or Warren beat him out. Just the same, that move would not make sense, as it would better serve both the Yankees and Pineda’s long-term future to remain a starter, even if it were at the Triple-A level.