TAMPA, Fla. - Michael Pineda's velocity has become an obsession for many. But not for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and certainly not Pineda himself.

In fact, after pitching in an intrasquad minor-league game at Steinbrenner Field Sunday, the club's fifth starter said that although he's not throwing as hard as he did in the first half of 2011, when he earned an All-Star spot, he's a better pitcher now.

"Before the surgery, I threw 97, 98, whatever, but I am focusing more on making quality pitches in the game," Pineda said after allowing one earned run, three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in six innings.

One of those pitches is a changeup, which he began to master during the lost spring of 2012 when his velocity became a daily fixation and he eventually was shut down with shoulder trouble that led to surgery to repair a torn labrum.

"Even though he was pitching with reduced velocity, he was really working on a changeup," Cashman said Sunday. "He's got a much better changeup now than he had then. He developed that that camp under Larry [Rothschild]. That pitch came really quick when he arrived, so that's a new weapon that will be beneficial if he's not sitting 97."

Pineda's fastball sat in the 93-mph range on Sunday and he's been as high as 95 this spring training, a time when pitchers are developing arm strength.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I've seen him up at 95, so that velo might be coming over time," Cashman said. "But he looks good. Whether it does or doesn't, he's good enough."

Pineda, who will make his season debut Saturday in Toronto, did exactly what the organization hoped, separating himself from the other Yankees pitchers contending for the role of fifth starter. The 25-year-old, the centerpiece acquisition in the Jesus Montero trade with the Mariners in January 2012, had a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings, struck out 16 and walked one.

"He's throwing strikes and he's healthy," Cashman said. "By his personality, you can tell he feels really good about where he's at . . . If he can maintain what he's shown down here in season, then he'll give us a lot."

Pineda threw 171 innings in 2011, his only big-league season, striking out 173 and compiling a 1.10 WHIP. Cashman said his innings will not be managed, at least at the beginning of the season. He wouldn't say if Pineda will be allowed to surpass 200 innings.

"There are no restrictions on Michael," Cashman said. "We'll let him go, see what we've got."

What he and the Yankees have right now is a pitcher thrilled to be leaving Tampa -- rather than rehabbing here -- and ready to throw his first big-league pitch since 2011.

"I'm so happy to be able to be around the team," Pineda said. "Especially in New York because I got traded two years ago, I didn't get to pitch. I'm so happy. Really, really happy."

Notes & quotes:Alfredo Aceves, signed to a minor-league deal Friday, pitched after Pineda on Sunday, and his fastball sat between 91 and 95 mph, according to Cashman. Aceves will start the season in the rotation for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre . . . The Yankees have until Tuesday, the day of their season opener in Houston, to make a move on their 40-man roster to add reserve infielder Yangervis Solarte, though Cashman said he expects a move before then.