Pineda's changeup gets fast results

New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda throws in

New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda throws in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies. (March 5, 2012) (Credit: AP)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The operative word with Michael Pineda has been "big."

Big, as in the pitcher's 6-7, 280-pound frame, which the Yankees -- and Pineda -- would like to see a little less of.

Big, as in the expectations for the 23-year-old that general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi have tried to tamp down.

Big, as in the importance of Pineda developing a changeup to go with his already honed fastball and slider.

The latter has been an especially hot topic since Pineda was acquired by the Yankees from Seattle. The results were encouraging Monday as he pitched a solid two innings in the Yankees' 9-3 loss to the Phillies at Bright House Field.

Pineda allowed a leadoff hit to Jimmy Rollins, then controlled the Phillies, comfortably mixing in a surprisingly effective changeup.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild taught him a new grip -- a circle change, in which the pitcher forms a circle on the side of the ball with his thumb and index finger -- and Pineda used the pitch four times, Rothschild said. That included a swing-and-miss third strike to Shane Victorino in the first.

"The new grip he's worked on with Larry sort of immediately clicked for him," said Russell Martin, saying that Monday was an extension of what he's seen in bullpen sessions.

Pineda, who struck out two in his 30-pitch (19-strike) outing, said he felt "comfortable" from the start with the grip and understands the need to develop a pitch Cashman said had been "below average."

"Larry talked to me the first time he saw me and talked to me about my changeup," Pineda said. "He said you have two great pitches. If you command the changeup, you'll be pitching great."

Martin said that in a pregame meeting, Rothschild instructed him to call for the changeup as if this were a regular-season game. "Every time I put it down, we got a positive result out of it," Martin said.

"If you just throw 'em to throw 'em, you're not getting as much out of it as you need to," Rothschild said.

Rothschild, never one to get excited about a good or bad outing in the regular season, certainly wasn't going to do so for an exhibition start.

"He's pitched two innings with it [the changeup], so it's hard to tell right now," Rothschild said of Pineda's comfort with the changeup. "I think he'll be fearless with it and I think he will use it, provided that he's comfortable with it and it's an effective pitch for him. That's the key to the whole thing."

And the changeup doesn't necessarily have to be thrown for strikes.

"I don't think it has to be a strike if the velocity is where it should be," Rothschild said. "I think hitters will have to gear up for him and then he'll get expanded strikes on it. If he establishes the first strike early in counts, it's going to help."

When he reported in February, Pineda said he weighed 280 pounds. He had the goal of losing 10, that pitching at 270 is the point at which he is "most comfortable."

On Monday, Pineda said he had dropped "seven or eight" of those pounds. Before the game, Girardi said he looks good physically and "has done everything" required in camp from a conditioning standpoint.

After the game, Girardi said he was pleased. "He got two outs with it [the changeup], and that's a start," he said. "But it's so early, and I don't get too high or too low on how they do early."

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