TAMPA, Fla. – Two years after acquiring him from the Seattle Mariners, the New York Yankees can finally expect to see some results from right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda. Armed with a strong spring performance that saw him strike out more than a quarter of the 60 batters he faced, Pineda was named the team’s fifth starter by manager Joe Girardi on Tuesday. Girardi also eased some concerns when indicating that Pineda will not be subject to any innings restrictions during the season.
“He threw extremely well,” Yankees manager Joe 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.”
Pineda, 25, was acquired from the Mariners after a 2011 season that saw him make the All-Star team and finish fifth in Rookie of the Year voting. Since then, he has not thrown a single pitch in the major leagues due to surgery on his throwing shoulder. However, after two years of working his way back, Pineda finally looks like the pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting when they traded Jesus Montero to the Mariners.
“We weren’t sure what we were going to get from Michael,” Girardi told reporters on Tuesday. “You look at a lot of other years, maybe one of those guys makes it as your fifth, because they all threw extremely well."
“But Michael, we thought, probably had the best spring. … We said all along, we were going to take who we feel is going to be the best in the rotation, and then we’ll figure out the bullpen.”
Despite David Phelps’ success during the past two seasons, the final spot in the rotation has appeared all spring to be Pineda’s to lose. After recording an ERA of 1.20 and allowing less than a hit per inning during four spring appearances, Pineda proved he belonged in the rotation. His slider has clocked in at 85 MPH this spring, and his fastball consistently shows in the 90-92 MPH range, something the Yankees would like to see hold through the regular season.
Bullpen taking shape
With Pineda earning the final rotation spot, Joe Girardi indicated that David Phelps and Adam Warren will join Dave Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Matt Thornton in the Yankees bullpen. It is unknown whether there is a spot for Vidal Nuno, or whether he will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Former top prospect Dellin Betances appears to have the inside track on one of the two bullpen spots still up for grabs, while the final spot will more than likely go to a left-handed pitcher – likely either Cesar Cabral or Nuno due to their 40-man roster status. Non-roster invitees Matt Daley, Chris Leroux, and David Herndon are believed to have an outside chance at cracking the bullpen.
Rounding out the bench
Joe Girardi indicated on Monday that he was “pretty close” to naming a backup catcher, but it seems safe to call that race in favor of veteran Francisco Cervelli. The 28-year-old has had a monster spring at the plate, hitting .455 with four home runs, seven RBIs, and a 1.409 OPS.
Cervelli has also spent a lot of his spring working with Masahiro Tanaka, who will likely require his own personal catcher during his first season pitching in the United States, giving him a significant leg up on Austin Romine. John Ryan Murphy, who was in the running for the position throughout the spring, was optioned to Triple-A on Tuesday afternoon.
With Cervelli a virtual lock, the only spot left to decide is who will serve as the team’s final reserve infielder until Brendan Ryan can return from back spasms. Dean Anna, Yangervis Solarte, Zealous Wheeler, and Scott Sizemore all appear to be in contention for joining Eduardo Nunez on the Yankees bench. However, with the promotion likely to be short-lived, Anna is the odds-on favorite by the simple virtue of having a 40-man roster spot.