Yankee fans did not know what to expect from Michael Pineda when he returned from the DL. Pineda had spent his entire first two seasons in pinstripes on the DL after coming over from Seattle in a trade for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. Then in his first action with the Bombers, he displayed flashes of brilliance reminiscent of his 2011 All-Star rookie campaign. However, that initial success this season was cut short. First by a 10-game suspension for using a foreign substance when he pitched, and then by a lat injury that caused him to spend four months on the DL. Expectations for the young right-hander were probably at their lowest point. There was even rumors that he could be non-tendered at season’s end. Big Mike, however, had other plans.
In two starts since coming off the DL, Pineda once again looks like that elusive young pitching ace that was worth trading the best Yankee hitting prospect in years (at the time). Last night, against the first place Kansas City Royals, Pineda pitched into the seventh inning for the first time as a Yankee, throwing 96 pitches with his fastball topping out at 97 mph. Pineda dominated the Royals’ hitters for 6 1/3 innings, yielded just 5 hits and one run. His only real mistake occurred in the third inning when Mike Moustakas pounded a poorly placed pitch into the seats. His velocity was up as Pineda had his good stuff setting single game season highs in innings, pitches and velocity.
“His fastball, slider and changeup have all been pretty good which is where he kind of left off which is not easy because he sat out a long time. What he didn’t have is the stamina he had early but we are pretty close to that now,” Joe Girardi stated after the game.” (h/t George A. King III, New York Post)
If Pineda can stay healthy and pitch as effectively as he has in the admittedly small sample size since returning from the DL, he will be a major boost to the Yankees rotation entering the home stretch. The Yankees have tied their longest winning streak of the season by winning five game in a row. They now sit six games out of the division and three in the chase for the second wild card. A rotation headed by Pineda, Brandon McCarthy, and Hiroki Kuroda could boost this team, which has underachieved all season, into the playoff picture. McCarthy has been on a tear since coming over from Arizona and Kuroda has pitched very consistently for the past few months as well. At the very least the trio could force the Bombers to play meaningful games late into September, at which point they may be able to pull the biggest ace in the game out of their sleeve, Masahiro Tanaka.
Tanaka is progressing through his rehab effectively and pain-free according to sources. While a best case scenario for this season may only be three or four starts at most, the Japanese right-hander, they might be starts that ultimately determine the Yankees playoff chances. If the Yankees fall out of the race, Tanaka’s comeback will hopefully be shelved until February. However, if the Bombers can propel themselves to capture the second wild card, then all of sudden you have to like the Yankees chances in a one game playoff with Tanaka on the mound. Then if they can win that game, it’s off to the races.