Pineda's return to the mound a success
Recovering from elbow surgery, Yanks righty solid in Class A rehab start
LAKELAND, Fla. -- After waiting through a game postponed due to a rainout on Saturday night, Michael Pineda took the mound on Sunday in Lakeland and demonstrated a full array of pitches as he continues his journey to don Major League pinstripes.
Pineda began his rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Tampa against Detroit's Minor League affiliate by tossing 4 1/3 effective innings, allowing a run, two hits -- a bunt single and a flare to right -- while striking out four and walking one. According to Yankees senior pitching instructor Greg Pavlick, the 6-foot-7 right-hander consistently hit 94 mph on the radar gun with his fastball during the 68-pitch outing.
"The fastball is feeling normal, feeling good," said Pineda, who is recovering from a torn labrum in his right shoulder. "I'm excited. My shoulder is feeling good. The mechanics are a little better. Good control on the fastballs. Not bad for my first time."
Pineda was acquired along with right-hander Jose Campos from Seattle for catcher Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi last January. This was the first time in nearly a year and a half that Pineda has pitched in an official game in the Yankees organization.
Because of the Florida State League All-Star Game, the Tampa Yankees are off the next time Pineda could start, so Pavlick said he would most likely make an appearance for another Yankees Minor League affiliate.
Facing the Flying Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium in 87-degree heat, Pineda worked quickly through the first inning relying strictly on offspeed material. Pineda recorded a lineout to short, a strikeout and a flyout to center field, tossing 11 total pitches.
Pineda needed to test his shoulder most in the second frame, when he tossed 25 pitches, mostly using his fastball. According to Pavlick, if the pitch count had reached "somewhere close to 30 or 35," then Pineda would have been replaced and finished his outing in the bullpen.
"We don't want to leave him out there too long, especially with him coming off the surgery," Pavlick said.
While his velocity was down from the 98-mph range he hovered around in 2011 with the Mariners, Pavlick said the plan is to increase steadily through the 30-day window of the rehabilitation stint. To do so, Pineda tossed 49 fastballs throughout Sunday's outing.
"He probably won't use that in the big leagues, but here we need to build up his arm strength," Pavlick said. "I look at more if he maintains [the velocity] in the late innings and he was hitting 93, 94 [mph] in the third and fourth innings. That's what we look at."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has said repeatedly that Pineda's performance against hitters in an official setting throughout this 30-day window will determine whether Pineda gets called up to the Yankees or is optioned to the Minors following the rehab stint.
Pineda looked sharp throughout the outing, albeit against Class A players, allowing just one hard-hit ball, a lineout to short. But Pavlick said it is a good first step.
"In the second inning, he struggled a little bit and he threw a lot of pitches," Pavlick said. "He kind of came out of his delivery a little in the second inning, but then he stayed on line a little better starting in the third. He had better angle on his pitches, better slider, better changeup. I think he pitched well."
Pineda said he was able to fix his mistakes in the second and third by focusing on keeping his left arm in tight on the rotation towards the mound.
"That's the biggest thing for me," said Pineda, who relied primarily on the fastball, changeup and slider. "I don't want to have my left arm open up. My pitches go off, I correct it. I fix it. Then, everything's good."
According to Tampa Yankees manager Luis Sojo, Pineda is on the way to being "a special player."
"He can be special," said Sojo, who had two stints in the Yankees organization during his 13-year career. "He mixed his pitches very good. For a long time not to pitch, he was very good. I'm very impressed. He looked strong. There are special things ahead for him."
Chris Girandola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.