03/25/12 7:25 PM ET
Pineda's focus on maturing, not radar gun
Velocity better, but Yanks righty most interested in changeup
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
There has been much talk about how Michael Pineda, the Yankees newcomer acquired for prized prospect Jesus Montero, hasn't been throwing as hard as he did in the past. That had people worried because there was a reported drop in velocity during the second half of last season, when the big right-hander's performance suffered.
But there was Pineda on Sunday afternoon, touching 94 mph and hitting 93 on several other occasions. Was it the mid-90s fastball he threw in last year's first half? No, but there's time for that yet.
"I understand, everybody knew last year I threw harder, so they say, 'What happened to Pineda right now?'" Pineda said. "I say, 'Nothing.' I feel good. I can pitch."
Pineda did just that during the Yankees' 1-1 tie with the Tigers. Pineda stretched his arm out to 87 pitches through five innings, allowing just one run on five hits, walking two and striking out four. It was another step in the right direction as he moves toward locking down a spot in the yet-to-be-determined Yankees rotation.
"To me, pitching is about location, and he has that," said Russell Martin, who caught Pineda on Sunday. "The guys who throw harder can get away with more. It looked like he was getting better and better as the game went on."
For most of the 2011 season, Pineda relied heavily on his plus fastball-slider combination. The changeup, which has been a work in progress since he began his climb up the Mariners' farm system, was never effective. It's been his focus this spring and a reason, some said, not to worry about that pesky velocity.
"I think it's come a long ways," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Pineda's changeup. "If you look at his tape from last year, he didn't throw a lot of them for strikes. You see a lot more of them for strikes and some swings and misses. That's a good thing.
"When you have a third pitch, you can pitch more. When you only have two, it's 50-50. So it just increases the creativity. He does move his fastball around. He's comfortable throwing to both sides of the plate."
Pineda has received praise for his pitchability, perhaps having a better overall feel for pitching than many in New York thought when the Yankees first obtained the power right-hander. He commands the fastball fairly well and is able to provide different looks with that breaking ball, all impressive considering he is just 23 years old.
Pineda is particularly excited about how his offspeed stuff is working. He threw his changeup frequently in Sunday's game and appears to be ready to use it consistently once the regular season gets under way.
"I'm feeling very comfortable right now," Pineda said. "It's what I need, practicing in Spring Training for use in the season."
More than throwing more changeups, it's the concept that Spring Training is just that -- practice -- that might be behind Pineda's velocity "woes." The fact he was up a tick or two on Sunday does provide some evidence that Pineda is starting to ramp it up incrementally.
"It was a good fastball; 93, 94 is no easy fastball," Pineda said. "That's a pretty good fastball. I have more. Last year, I knew I threw hard. This is Spring Training -- the power is coming back, coming back, coming back."
Pineda signaled with his hand as if climbing a ladder. Whether he can throw consistently in the mid-90s, as he showed during his electric first half last year, remains to be seen. But there are no alarms going off anywhere in the Yankees clubhouse about how hard Pineda had been throwing to date.
"I'm not concerned with it," Martin said. "Once you get into competition, it gets a little more heated up."
Even if Pineda does continue to experience a dip in velocity, the work he's done this spring will come in handy. Having a third pitch he can trust will help his creativity, as Girardi put it. Having that extra option should allow Pineda to be a more complete pitcher -- not just a thrower who can pitch a little.
Given the early success he had as well as the spotlight on him since the trade, it's easy to forget that Pineda is still very much figuring things out, with just one year of Major League service under his belt. At the start of 2010, he was in Double-A. Now, he's getting ready to prove himself in the biggest market.
"You work where you need," Pineda said. "Now, I'm focused a little more on making good pitches. I learned from last year that's all I need.
"I know the other teams know me. I'm very comfortable, because last year I threw a lot of fastballs and sliders and I didn't throw a lot of changeups. Now, I'm throwing a little more changeups. It's my second year, you know?"