Can Michael Pineda return to All-Star form?

Yankees Michael Pineda throws in the Bullpen as Yankees Michael Pineda throws in the Bullpen as pitching coach Larry Rothschild watches at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa on the morning of February 17, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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TAMPA, Fla. - The pitcher said, as he did last week, "I'm the same Michael Pineda." And that means only one thing:

Pitching like the righthander who appeared to be one of the sport's ascending stars during the first half of 2011, when he went 8-5 with a 2.58 ERA in 17 starts for the Mariners and made the All-Star team.

But a bad finish to that season begat an offseason in which the now-25-year-old was traded to the Yankees for a package that included Jesus Montero. Pineda showed up to that first Yankees camp overweight, soon developed shoulder issues and eventually underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, which cost him the rest of 2012 and much of last season.

Pineda, however, showed up to camp this year in far better shape, having shaved much of the baby fat from his 6-7, 260-pound frame. Though no one will say it publicly, the organization would very much like to see Pineda have a lights-out spring training and lay an emphatic claim to the fifth starter spot.

"Very good, Michael," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said toward the end of his bullpen session Monday morning. A handful of coaches and manager Joe Girardi watched the 35-pitch session. "I was happy with what I saw,'' Girardi said. "I thought the ball came out really well today. To me, it looked different."

Girardi explained, "I felt the ball was coming out easier" and added that Pineda has "cleaned up" some things mechanically in his delivery.

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"It would be extremely important, I think it would be a boost," Girardi said of the impact if Pineda can win the job. "That's a significant arm."

Replacing Jeter on 'D'

Girardi didn't touch a topic that is sure to come up this season: the prospect of taking out Derek Jeter, 39, in the late innings in favor of Brendan Ryan, a better defender at this stage in his career. "It's early to predict exactly where he's going to be at and I think it's unfair to say, 'This is what we're going to do,' " Girardi said.

Tex still swinging

Mark Teixeira, coming off surgery on his right wrist, hit from both sides of the plate a second straight day, taking 90 swings. "Pleased," Girardi said. "He said he felt good, and that's a good sign. Looked pretty normal to me from both sides."

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