Michael Pineda makes Yankees debut on Saturday

Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda works out at Steinbrenner

Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda works out at Steinbrenner Field on the morning of Feb. 20, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

TORONTO -- Masahiro Tanaka isn't the only pitcher making his Yankees debut this weekend. Accompanied by much less hype, but certainly important to the club's 2014 fortunes, Michael Pineda finally will do so Saturday afternoon.

"I'm very excited to be back to pitching,'' said Pineda, 25, the centerpiece acquisition in the Jesus Montero trade before the 2012 season.

Pineda hasn't pitched in a major-league game since Sept. 21, 2011, with the Mariners. He had surgery for a torn labrum on May 1, 2012, and has been working his way back since.

"I questioned when we watched what he went through, there were questions for me when we would get him back,'' Joe Girardi said. "Would you get the Michael that we'd seen before in Seattle with the good slider, the velocity? His changeup has obviously improved since then. There were questions in my mind because the surgery he had, there's not as much success coming back as maybe a Tommy John.''

Bumpy ride

The Yankees didn't arrive at their Toronto hotel until 6 a.m. Friday, the culmination of a rough overnight of travel. The team charter flew through a thunderstorm in the early-morning hours on its way from Houston. "For 45 minutes, it was knuckleball express, as good as I've seen it, or as bad as I've seen it,'' Girardi said.

Mariano Rivera had been known as the most jittery flyer on the club. He bequeathed that title, as well as the closer role, to David Robertson, according to more than a few in the traveling party. Robertson said of the flight, "It wasn't fun.''

Anna in for Jeter

Derek Jeter got the day off after playing three straight games in Houston and was replaced by Dean Anna, 27, who went 1-for-4 in his major-league debut. "I'm not thinking about it like that,'' Anna said of filling in for Jeter. "I guess it's an honor. I'm lucky more than anything.''

Jeter greeted an old friend before the game, chatting a bit with the scout who signed him, Dick Groch, now a special assistant to Brewers GM Doug Melvin.

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