TAMPA, Fla. - The buzz was back at Steinbrenner Field Tuesday as the Yankees and Red Sox renewed their storied rivalry in front of a sellout crowd in the first of two exhibition matchups in three days.

There were many types of buzz in the ballpark, and not just because of the swarm of bees in leftfield that caused a seven-minute delay in the third inning of the Yankees' 8-1 victory.

The early buzz was about centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who didn't play because of a calf strain and is questionable for Thursday's rematch in Fort Myers. Even so, the rivals' first spring training meeting was a chance to rehash how Ellsbury became the latest Boston star to leave Back Bay for the Bronx.

"There seems to be there's more that go from the Red Sox to the Yankees than vice versa,'' Ellsbury said. "I can't put a reason on it.''

The late buzz was about Michael Pineda, who shut out the Sox for 41/3 innings and is starting to convince people, as Mark Teixeira put it, that he can be "a top of the rotation starter'' again.

Pineda made his strongest case yet for the fifth spot with a dominant performance. Facing a lineup that did not include David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli or Shane Victorino, Pineda allowed four hits, walked none and struck out five, all on devastating sliders. He threw 60 pitches, 45 for strikes.

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Pineda, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2011 because of shoulder problems, has not given up a run in nine innings, walking one and striking out 14. "I feel like the same Michael Pineda,'' he said.

Ever-cautious Joe Girardi would not anoint Pineda as the winner of the battle with David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuño. But if Pineda stays healthy and continues to impress, he should get the nod as the one with the highest upside.

The pregame chatter was about Ellsbury. Instead of getting ready to face his old mates for the first time, he was gearing up to shake hands and say hellos.

"We'll see how many made the trip,'' Ellsbury said. "But yeah, I still talk to those guys and I'll say hello to them. But I have a feeling there's not going to be too many of them.''

Boston did leave most of its stars home. But it brought its passionate media, which performed the day's first swarm: around Ellsbury in the clubhouse. He was asked to relive the details of his departure from Boston. He was asked how it felt to be a Yankee. He was asked if he had interacted with many Red Sox fans after signing for $153 million with the Evil Empire.

"Ran into them all the time in the offseason,'' Ellsbury said. "Pretty much all positive stuff. Just 'thanks for the two championships,' stuff like that. 'Thanks for playing hard. Best of luck.' ''

Boston fans might not be wishing Ellsbury "best of luck'' when he returns to Fenway on April 22. Johnny Damon was booed mercilessly when he returned as a Yankee and never forgot it.

But Ellsbury said: "I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to the game. You spend nine years with one organization, I think it will be different.''

Of his calf, which kept him out of Sunday's game, he said it's fine when he walks and works out. He hasn't tried to run on it, and he won't get back into the lineup until he passes that test. "It's something we just want 100 percent,'' he said. That could take a few more days, at least.

Oh, and the bees. They caused a delay when Red Sox leftfielder Mike Carp smartly moved away from the leftfield fence and called the umpires out. Stadium workers sprayed massive amounts of insect repellent at the swarm. Teixeira waved two bottles of honey from the dugout in an attempt at humor.

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"Beeeeee patient,'' public-address announcer Paul Olden told the fans. They were, and the bees eventually scattered.

Notes & quotes: Alfonso Soriano (2-for-4, four RBIs) had his first home run, a three-run shot in the fourth . . . The Yankees sent 12 players, including outfield prospect Mason Williams, to minor-league camp.