Potential starter Michael Pineda impresses Joe Girardi
DUNEDIN, Fla. - The other candidates to become the Yankees' fifth starter have had their chances to make a first impression, with lefthander Vidal Nuño getting his second one Sunday.
Michael Pineda gets his opportunity Friday.
Joe Girardi, after watching the 25-year-old throw a simulated game Sunday morning in Tampa, said Pineda will make his spring training debut Friday night against the Tigers at Steinbrenner Field.
Pineda is competing for the rotation's fifth spot against David Phelps, Adam Warren and Nuño, who allowed two hits, including a homer by Jose Bautista, in two innings Sunday in an 8-2 win over the Blue Jays.
"I'm so excited," said Pineda, who because of shoulder surgery nearly two years ago hasn't pitched a big-league game for the Yankees since being acquired from the Mariners before the 2012 season. "It's a long time ago. Now I'm ready to go, so I feel really excited."
The Yankees are excited, too, to see some semblance of the pitcher who went 8-5 with a 2.58 ERA in his first 17 starts and made the All-Star team with the Mariners in 2011.
"That's something to get excited about," Girardi said. "This kid pitched pretty well his freshman season."
But Pineda faded down the stretch in 2011 and was dealt to the Yankees in the Jesus Montero trade that offseason.
The righthander raised some red flags in the organization when he showed up overweight at his first spring training with the Yankees, and the shoulder trouble started soon after. Pineda's fastball rarely surpassed 90 mph his first several starts, and he came out of a March 30 start against the Phillies at Steinbrenner Field complaining of arm and shoulder soreness. A torn labrum was diagnosed in April, and surgery followed.
It has been a long road back, and although the Yankees aren't counting on Pineda this season, they could use him. Privately, the Yankees would like to see him emphatically claim the fifth starter job, but he will have to earn it.
Early results, as much as can be drawn from bullpen, live BP sessions and simulated games, have been promising. The 6-7 Pineda threw 35 pitches Sunday to catcher Pete O'Brien and faced switch hitter Zoilo Almonte, who batted lefty, and righty-hitting Scott Sizemore.
"The ball was popping out of his hand," Sizemore said. "His height and his arm slot make it really tough on a righty."
Almonte didn't enjoy the experience, either, at one point swinging weakly at a cutter that bore in on him and shattered his bat. "That was nasty," Almonte told ESPN Deportes. "Best one I've seen in a while. Broke one of my favorite bats."
O'Brien, a second-round pick in 2012, caught Pineda later that season when the righthander was starting to come back from surgery.
"You could tell he had good stuff, but it's nothing compared to now," O'Brien said. "He looks so much smoother, so much more comfortable out there."
Pineda said "my shoulder is stronger this year," the best it has felt in camp since before his 2011 rookie year. He has been happiest with his fastball command, although O'Brien called Pineda's slider and changeup especially good.
Girardi said Pineda physically looks the best he has since becoming a Yankee.
"He's been great," Girardi said. "Everything we've asked him to do, he's been right on."