Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Joe Girardi told him he'd be the Yankees 5th starter, Michael Pineda's first phone call was to his mother in the Dominican Republic-NY Times

3/25/14, "In Second Chance, Pineda Is Named the Yankees’ Fifth Starter," NY Times, David Waldstein, Tampa

"Michael Pineda had to pause and collect himself as tears welled in his eyes Tuesday. Yankees Manager Joe Girardi had just told him that he had won the competition to be the Yankees’ fifth starter, and now reporters were asking Pineda to express his feelings about it.

Two years ago, almost to the day, many of the same reporters were questioning Pineda about a shoulder injury that would later require surgery. The recovery from that operation was long and at times tumultuous, a two-year period that included Pineda’s arrest here for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The Yankees had traded for Pineda in January 2012, sending Jesus Montero, then a top hitting prospect, to the Seattle Mariners in a deal that centered on those two players. Barely two months later, Pineda’s injury derailed what the Yankees hoped would be a seamless transition to the American League East, and then his arrest that summer raised more serious questions. Pineda, 25, was asked what he learned then.

“Wow, it’s hard,” he said as he put his fingers to his eyes. “I learned a lot of situations that happened with me over the last two years. I learned I’m a professional player and I need a good focus on baseball every day, all the time.”

In spring training, the Yankees were apparently satisfied enough that Pineda had corrected all his issues, physical and otherwise, and felt secure to grant him his second chance at the big leagues. Pineda earned the job by throwing 15 strong innings in spring training, with a 1.20 earned run average and 16 strikeouts, and got his fastball velocity back up to 94 miles per hour.

“He threw extremely well,” Girardi said. “It was what we wanted to see from him. He improved with each outing, and at times was dominant. We really liked what we saw.”

Pineda, a right-hander, beat out David Phelps, who will go to the bullpen, and Adam Warren. Phelps made 23 starts over the last two years, in part because of Pineda’s absence. Asked his preference, whether to be a starter or a reliever, Phelps replied, “My preference is just to help this team win.”

Shoulder injuries like Pineda’s, a torn labrum, are difficult to come back from. Pineda did not pitch in 2012 and made 10 starts last year at three levels of the Yankees’ farm system, going 2-1 with a 3.32 E.R.A. in 402/3 innings. In 2011, his only season in the major leagues, he went 9-10 with a 3.74 E.R.A. with the Mariners. The first half of that year earned him an All-Star nod, but in the second half of the season he mysteriously lost velocity on his fastball and struggled, perhaps because of injury.

Today, he does not throw as hard, but as Girardi said, he does not have to in order to get outs. He is throwing with confidence and using his secondary pitches, including a tough slider and an improving changeup, to get outs along with his fastball.

On Tuesday, after Pineda got the news from Girardi, he called many people, he said. But first he called his mother in the Dominican Republic and told her the news that he was returning to the big leagues.

“I’m happy today and proud of myself,” he said. “I’m so happy, man.”


Jacoby Ellsbury, who is recovering from a strained right calf, took six at-bats as the designated hitter in a minor league game Tuesday and said he thought he could avoid the disabled list. But until the Yankees are certain Ellsbury is completely healthy, they will limit him to minor league games, offering them the option to backdate his move to the D.L., if necessary. ... Catcher John Ryan Murphy was sent to the minor leagues, and Francisco Cervelli appears to have won the job as Brian McCann’s backup."

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