Yankees Spring Training Report: A Look at the Veterans

Sep 25, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) rounds third base after hitting a solo home run in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) rounds third base after hitting a solo home run in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /
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Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Michael Pineda

Oh, Big Mike. Following your career has been a crazy roller coaster ride, rising to the heights of wild optimism and then plummeting to the depths of disoriented despair. And that journey started before he joined the Yankees.

As a Mariner in 2011, he pitched a shut-out inning in the All-Star Game and finished fifth in Rookie of the Year. When he was traded for Jesus Montero, who was the number three prospect in all of baseball at the time, Yankees fans were riding high.

But the journey had just started. He joined the Yankees big league club in 2014, and when he pitched, he pitched brilliantly. Over his first 13 games, he sported a gaudy 1.89 ERA, gave up almost 20 fewer hits than innings pitched, and surrendered only five homers. Big Mike looked like the best pitcher in baseball, and we screamed with excitement.

Those were not just the first 13 games of the year. However, they were only 13 games of the year. Pineda decided to put pine tar on his neck one cold night against the Red Sox and was quickly suspended. And then he hurt himself during his comeback and missed most of the season. It felt like we got on the Kiddie version of the ride and, now that we were in line for the real one, the park was closed.

Go Yanks Go Yard

But the optimism of the off-season soon returned and so Yankees and Yankees fans all expected him to come back and be that guy. Instead, the results have continued to be maddeningly perplexing.

Two years ago he had a 16-strikeout game in May. Big Mike received a standing ovation from the sports writers of America, Kat Frye serving here as the exemplar.

"This dominant performance along with an injury to Masahiro Tanaka and the struggles of CC Sabathia is moving him into position to claim the title of staff Ace.  He is beginning to become the pitcher that Brian Cashman hoped for when he sent popular catching prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for Pineda in 2011."

But by the end of the year, Pineda’s ERA was 4.37, and he had given up 16 more hits than innings pitched. He also gave up 21 home runs.

Now Yankees and Yankees fans wondered who Pineda was. If 2016 is the answer, I want off this ride and my money refunded. His ERA ballooned to 4.82, and he continued to have more hits than innings pitched (184/175). And just to be consistent, Pineda also gave up more homers: 27. But of course, he also finished fifth in strikeouts per nine innings. And that was not just in the AL; no, that is in all of baseball.

My grandpa used to say that I had to accept the sweet with the sour. I think he was referring to rooting for Michael Pineda.

Moot Means Debatable

So it was possible that enough pitchers would do well enough in spring training that Pineda might lose his job. That has not happened. Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell still look like the frontrunners, but no one has dominated ala Masahiro Tanaka. Jordan Montgomery is getting a long look and surprise start but is still destined to start in the minors or, at least, the Bronx bullpen. James Kaprielian is going to come for someone’s job sometime in August, but this is about spring training.

All of that is moot, however, as Pineda is in excellent form and Mr. Mike’s Wild Ride has returned. I have often criticized his lack of focus, but that is not the case in spring training. He says he has worked all off-season on focusing with two strikes and two outs. And it shows in not only his countenance on the mound but his numbers in the box.

Pineda has thrown ten innings and has an even gaudier 1.80 ERA. He has 14 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.40; he is Big Mike again. At least so far in the spring. Again, we have to wait and see, but if BM is going to pitch anything like this, he will take the entire Yankees organization on a real, fun ride. And he can do that because we have seen it before. Spring is about hope and Pineda is filling Yankees Universe with it.

Note to self: never use BM as an abbreviation for Big Mike again.