Pineiro finds perfect fit in Anaheim
Right-hander likes Angels' defense, knows AL West
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Having done his homework, Joel Pineiro feels he aced the test.
A free agent following a superb 2009 season in St. Louis, he canvassed the Major League landscape before zeroing in on the ideal location for his special skill set.
Los Angeles of Anaheim, where the Angels alight.
Quality management led by 2009 American League Manager of the Year Mike Scioscia? Check.
Excellent defensive support, featuring highlight-reel performers Torii Hunter, Erick Aybar, Howard Kendrick and Maicer Izturis? Check.
Sturdy catching from proven receivers Mike Napoli and Jeff Mathis? Check.
Familiar landscape in the AL West? Check.
When the Angels, needing a starter to replace John Lackey, matched Pineiro's check list with one of their own and opened owner Arte Moreno's checkbook to the tune of $16 million for two years, a marriage was made in Halos heaven.
"I don't see anybody else who emphasizes defense as much as these guys," Pineiro said on his first day in an Angels uniform at Tempe Diablo Stadium after undergoing his physical exam on Wednesday. "I had guys reviewing it, and they said, `They've got your back.'
"I use my defense. It's one of the things that attracted me to be here. I work fast and throw strikes. It's a good fit all around. A perfect fit, really."
Pineiro, who was 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA in 32 starts for the Cardinals, takes part in the club's first workout on Thursday under Scioscia and pitching coach Mike Butcher.
Pineiro began his career in the Seattle system, where one of his teammates climbing the organizational ladder was Angels closer Brian Fuentes.
"Losing John was a big thing," Fuentes said of Lackey, the staff ace since 2006, "but I played with Joel all through my time in Seattle, and I know the job he can do.
"Back then he brought it pretty good, mid-90s with a real good curveball. He has more movement now and is getting a lot of ground balls with low walk totals. With our infield, and our defense in general, he should really benefit. When you get balls in play here, they're going to be outs."
Pineiro knows the American League West: how the parks play, how the managers like to push the action on the basepaths. It's where he grew up in the game.
"I was in the West for six years," he said. "I'm looking forward to getting to know the guys, the catchers, working with them so they can figure out what I like to do.
"It's just a matter of going back out there and getting it done. It's the same baseball. You've still got to throw strikes and get guys out. It doesn't matter what league you're in or where you're pitching."
Pineiro, at 31, is the elder statesman in a rotation that includes Joe Saunders (28), Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana (both 27) and Scott Kazmir (26).
Pineiro (87-79, 4.39 career ERA), Weaver (51-27, 3.73), Saunders (48-22, 4.22), Santana (59-45, 4.52) and Kazmir (57-46, 3.83) have combined for 302 career victories with an average age of 27.8.
Few clubs in the Majors can boast that brand of production from a starting unit in its physical prime.
While there has been considerable speculation industry-wide about which of the five starters will assume Lackey's lead-dog role, Pineiro gives it no particular significance.
"That's for the manager and pitching coach to decide," Pineiro said. "I'm not going to be mad if I don't get the No. 1. We all work together, and we'll get to know each other. It might be a good competition, but it's a friendly competition.
"To me, after the first five games of the year, everybody becomes a No. 1. After those first five games, all five are going to want the ball that day. We're all veterans; we've all been around. We got to help each other out."
Scioscia couldn't have phrased it any better.
"We have guys that all have the potential to do it," Scioscia said. "It's a matter of doing it. We have candidates for lead dog, guys who want to be in that role in a pennant race."
Born in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, Pineiro moved to Orlando, Fla., at age 10 after his parents were divorced and grew up there before signing with Seattle in 1997 as a 12th-round Draft choice. He now calls Miami home -- for winters, at least.
In St. Louis, where Cards pitching coach Dave Duncan is known as a guru with almost mystical powers, Pineiro followed Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright in a brilliant rotation.
Pineiro found and maintained his groove, delivering his best work since 2003 and 2004 when he was a combined 30-18 while averaging 203 innings for Seattle.
Injuries and inconsistency kept Pineiro from recapturing that form before he put it all together last season. It had nothing to do with mechanics, he said, and everything to do with pitch selection and execution.
His evolution from hard thrower to location artist is verified by numbers. In '03, when he was 16-11 with a 3.78 ERA, Pineiro had 151 strikeouts against 76 walks in 211 2/3 innings.
Getting more outs with fewer pitches, Pineiro struck out 105 while walking only 27 men in his 214 innings in '09.
"That's definitely something I learned in St. Louis, pitching to contact," Pineiro said. "They didn't want their pitchers having seven or eight strikeouts in the first five innings. They were going to have high pitch counts and not get deep in the game."
While acknowledging Duncan's efforts, Pineiro points out that Cards catcher Yadier Molina "also was a big part of me having the season I had and deserves a lot of credit."
Making more extensive use of his two-seam fastball than in years past, Pineiro put it in good places to get early-count outs, taking him deeper in games. He established a career high in innings (214) while leading the Majors in fewest walks (1.14 per nine innings) and most ground balls (.641).
"It's the same one I threw in '03 and '04," Pineiro said of his two-seam fastball, which dives into the lower strike zone. "I used to throw it five or six times a game. I don't know why I didn't throw it more often.
"When you're young, you're trying to blow people away. You have to learn to not be afraid of getting hit. I might give up more hits now, but I like to challenge people. I want to make them put the ball in play."
In his new home on the left coast, Pineiro will thoroughly enjoy having a hand in those highlight-reel plays made behind him by Hunter, Aybar and their friends.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.