MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees

Yesterday was just another Spring Training day. Yankees starter Michael Pineda faced off against the Red Sox in just another Spring Training start at Steinbrenner Field. The stakes were very low, as per spring tradition. The lineup the Red Sox sent wasn’t exactly representative of the Sox at their full power, but it was hardly a “bee” lineup. Eh? Eh? Bee?

At any rate, Michael Pineda‘s outing against the Red Sox went very, very well. Pineda had his slider working as he registered five strikeouts in just under five innings pitched, reaching his 60 pitch limit without too much in the way of stress as the Sox scratched out just four hits.

It got the minds of Yankee fans racing. With a rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Masahario Tanaka, and Ivan Nova, Pineda is one of several pitchers competing for the fifth starter job but, if he keeps pitching like this, it won’t be much of competition. Michael Pineda is healthy and well so the Yanks are set, right?

Right. If only it were so simple.

There is absolutely opportunity for optimism after Pineda’s strong spring outing. For starters, it wasn’t his first one of the Grapefruit League. The enormous Yankee right-hander is yet to allow a run this spring, striking out 14 batters against just one walk and eight hits allowed in nine innings. His velocity continues creeping up into the mid-nineties and his arm looks very loose in doing so.

In yesterday’s outing in particular, Pineda coaxed swinging strikes by the bushel from overmatched Red Sox batters. His aforementioned slider was nearly untouchable, as big leaguers like Jonny Gomes swung over top the sharp-breaking offering.

There is opportunity for a reality check with Pineda, of course. The Red Sox lineup was a little short on talent but more importantly it was short on left-handed batters. Pineda’s mostly a two-pitch guy and his fastball-slider combo is absolute murder on righties. But lefties have a bit of an easier time with Pineda, yet the Red Sox lineup was noticeably light on portsiders.

Compare yesterday’s spring lineup with the one Pineda is likely to face should he face the Red Sox at full power.

Yesterday’s Red Sox Lineup Typical Sox lineup this season (projected)
  1. Jackie Bradley (L)
  2. Jonny Gomes
  3. Mike Carp (L)
  4. Ryan Lavarnway
  5. Xander Bogaerts
  6. A guy named Brown (L)
  7. David Ross
  8. Brandon Snyder
  9. Jonathan Herrera (switch)
  1. Bradley/Sizemore (L)
  2. Shane Victorino (switch but maybe not?)
  3. Dustin Pedroia
  4. David Ortiz (L)
  5. Mike Napoli
  6. Daniel Nava (switch)
  7. Xander Bogaerts
  8. A.J. Pierzynski (L)
  9. Will Middlebrooks

It isn’t even about the difference in quality, just the extra left-handed bat Pineda must navigate makes things tougher on him. Of the lefties he faced yesterday, Jackie Bradley turned in nice at bats and pounded a double to center field and Mike Carp slapped a single through a shifted infield.

So really, it was all good from Pineda. He still threw his slider to lefties, getting a bunch of silly swings over that pitch thrown to their back foot. He attempted a few change ups, a pitch he almost never throws to righties, and the results were mixed. I recall the change coming in around 84 or 85 mph, which doesn’t differ greatly from his fastball that sat close to 92 mph yesterday. Hardly a pitching coach but my view of the change up remains a dim one, if that matters (note: it does not!)

There is great reason for optimism for the Yankees when they think about what they have in Pineda. They aren’t asking him to carry a great load or be a number two starter, as was his role with the Mariners. More than that, two pitch guys can work in the big leagues when they’re as big as a mountain and pound the zone. Pineda’s fastball looks good and his slider looks as unhittable as ever. More than anything, he looks healthy and ready to contribute.

Sure, left-handed batters might give Pineda trouble if his slider isn’t working and perhaps Yankee Stadium isn’t the best place for a player with that profile, but as far as fifth starters go, Michael Pineda is about as good as anybody could ask for. For all their spending this winter, the Yankees still have several pressing concerns for the upcoming seasons. If they can count on a guy like Pineda for even half of what he shows right now, the Yankees will be sitting pretty.