Pineda rediscovers his elusive slider
One could certainly say that Michael Pineda cleaned up his act Wednesday. In his prior start, the righthander had a disastrous seven-run inning against the Rangers that included a couple of errors, including one by himself. Very sloppy indeed.
There was none of that in Wednesday’s outing as he pitched the Yankees to a 4-2 victory that completed a three-game sweep of the Royals, who have a much more tortuous lineup than that of Texas.
Pineda’s work was part of a complete turnaround by the Yankees in the homestand. As bad as they looked in losing three games to the Rangers, that is how good the Yankees looked in winning three games from the Royals and regaining sole possession of first place in the American League East and reminding Kansas City how much more comfortable it is in the AL Central.
“Baseball is a strange game,” Yanks manager Joe Girardi said in a major understatement. “Over the long haul things balance out, but over a short span things don’t always balance out. Everything begins for me with starting pitching.”
That is where Pineda comes in, following quality starts from Adam Warren Tuesday night and Nathan Eovaldi Monday. Pineda gave up a first-inning home run to Mike Moustakas on a changeup and then slammed the door two outs into the seventh inning before he was victimized by the pitch-count police.
“I wanted to keep pitching, but I don’t have control of that,” Pineda said. “I asked how many pitches I had, and [Girardi] told me 106. So I guess that was it. A starting pitcher goes out every five days so on your day you want to pitch as long as you can, but that is not up to me. We have a good bullpen, so I know they can do the job.”
Girardi is known to be cautious with pitchers, particularly someone like Pineda, who has had two major surgeries.
“Michael has never pitched more than 170 innings in a season,” Girardi noted. “He’s on a pace for 220, 230 innings this year. It’s a long season.”
The key for Pineda was a return of his slider, which was missing entirely from his prior outing. He worked on some mechanical adjustments in his between-starts bullpen sessions. The results were positive. He allowed five hits other than the Moustakas homer and only one walk with eight strikeouts. While Masahiro Tanaka was having a rough injury-rehabilitation start for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre at Pawtucket (3 innings, 4 hits, 3 earned runs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts), Pineda was pitching like a staff ace in improving his record to 6-2 with a 3.36 ERA.
Brian McCann got the Yankees even with a solo home run in the second off the other Chris Young, and Alex Rodriguez made it 4-1 the next inning with a three-run shot that raised his career RBI total to 1,995 to break Lou Gehrig’s AL career record. The long ball resurfaced for the Yankees in the series. They totaled six home runs in their six-game losing streak. They homered eight times in the three games against KC.
Pineda worked out of tight spots in the fourth and fifth innings and stranded two runners on base each time. He was particularly impressive in the fifth after Carlos Beltran misplayed a liner by Paulo Orlando into a double and Alcides Escobar singled. Pineda bore down and struck out Moustakas on a slider (no changeup this time) and Lorenzo Cain on an even nastier one.
An errant throw by shortstop Didi Gregorius led to an unearned run off Dellin Betances in the eighth (his stretch of unearned runs this season has reached 26 innings over 23 games), and Andrew Miller handled the ninth for his 14th save.
But as Girardi pointed out, it starts with the starter, and Pineda was every bit the good one.