TORONTO - Michael Pineda insisted from his first day at spring training that he again was a force. "I'm the same Michael Pineda,'' he told reporters more than a few times.
The "same'' Pineda refers to the pitcher who in 2011 looked like one of the best young arms in baseball, going 8-5 with a 2.58 ERA in his first 17 starts with the Mariners.
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Shoulder surgery prevented him from throwing a major-league pitch in 2012-13, but the 6-7 righthander's proclamation in February, initially greeted with skepticism, is proving accurate.
Pineda was terrific in his Yankees debut Saturday, allowing one run in six innings in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays in front of 45,446 at Rogers Centre.
"I'm so excited, my first game as a New York Yankee,'' he said. "Today was a big day for me.''
Making his first start since Sept. 21, 2011, Pineda allowed five hits, walked none and struck out five. He threw 83 pitches, featuring a fastball that reached 95 mph and a slider that catcher Francisco Cervelli called "nasty.'' It was a day that allowed the Yankees to dream a bit about what it might be like to have that kind of starter in their No. 5 rotation slot.
"I think it could mean a lot to our team,'' Joe Girardi said. "And I'm sure it means a lot to him to be able to go out, do what he loves, to compete at the highest level. He's put a lot of work in over the last two years.''
Pineda's day, however, was overshadowed by a still-struggling offense and a strange play at the plate that denied the Yankees what would have been a tying run and exposed a gray area in MLB's new rule intended to eliminate collisions at home.
A day after picking up 16 hits, the Yankees went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10. They haven't hit a home run in their first five games -- "I believe we're going to hit one. I do,'' Girardi said, his voice containing a hint of sarcasm -- and mostly have been stagnant, though leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury collected three hits for the second straight game. Rookie Yangervis Solarte added two hits, giving him his third straight multi-hit game.
David Phelps allowed a solo homer by Melky Cabrera and a two-run shot by Jose Bautista in the eighth as the Jays extended their lead to 4-0. But 1-0 was all knuckleballer R.A. Dickey needed. He shut down the Yankees, allowing five hits and a walk in 62/3 innings and striking out five.
The Yankees put two runners on base in each of the final five innings but could not get the timely hit they needed.
"We're struggling a little bit,'' Girardi said. "We had some opportunities today and maybe the game's a little bit different if we cash in, but that's just part of the game. Get some guys going and we'll start putting up some crooked numbers.''
The Blue Jays scored in the second when Adam Lind led off with an opposite-field double to left and scored on Josh Thole's one-out single.
Cervelli led off the third with a double to right-center and tried to score the tying run on Ellsbury's two-out single but was called out at the plate on a bang-bang play in which the Yankees felt Thole illegally blocked the plate. As part of a rule to get rid of collisions, catchers are forbidden from blocking the plate without the ball and must leave at least part of the plate open for the sliding runner. But a catcher can block the plate to field a throw, leaving some vagueness in the rule, Girardi's main complaint afterward.
The umpire reviewing the play in New York upheld umpire Dana DeMuth's out call and did not agree with Girardi's contention that Thole had the entire plate blocked. "He had plenty of path to the plate,'' DeMuth said. "That's what I saw on the field.''
Girardi and Cervelli -- who appeared to touch the plate with his left foot before he was tagged -- did not agree. "I'm supposed to slide for the outside part [of the plate], that was my thought,'' Cervelli said. "But when he blocked the plate, I didn't know what to do.''
With David Lennon