Michael Pineda appears to have found his secret ingredient this season. He added a changeup to his repertoire and it has been transformative. It’s made his great-but-inconsistent talent reliable. And it’s turned a flaky starting pitcher into a bulldog.
Pineda’s go-to pitch always has been a lethal slider, and when it hasn’t been good — as was the case in the Yankees’ 9-5 victory over the A’s on Sunday at the Stadium — it sabotaged him and thus the Yanks. But with this new tool in his bag, days like that no longer have to go bad, and this one didn’t. He used the changeup more liberally than usual and gutted through a solid six innings.
“It’s good that when you have another pitch that can keep you in the game and grind it out,” he said. “So today feels good.”
Pineda (6-2, 3.32 ERA) allowed three runs (two earned), three hits and three walks in six innings, striking out five. The Yankees are 8-2 in games he’s started.
“My slider was not consistent like it usually is,” he said, “but I had my good changeup and I tried to locate my fastball . . . The changeup had great action.”
Pineda’s performance capped an outstanding homestand for the starting rotation. In the six games — the first also was started by Pineda — the starters averaged 6 2⁄3 innings pitched and never allowed more than two earned runs. The quintet pitched 40 2⁄3 innings to a 1.77 ERA and fanned 46 hitters.
“We feel great when the rotation is doing its job,” Pineda said. “We work to every day give the team the opportunity to win a big game.”
The run is a point of pride for the starting pitchers, who were largely thought to be the club’s biggest weakness when the season began. Pineda said he was surprised that people thought that because “we have great talent right here.”
He added, “The only thing I am going to say is we are going to continue working hard and pitching like that.”
Manager Joe Girardi said Pineda’s changeup makes him much more unpredictable to opposing hitters. His slider breaks into lefthanded batters and the changeup breaks away from them. “He can go either way,” Girardi said.
Pineda got eight outs on ground balls and didn’t give up a home run for only the second time this season. He said he owed it to this new weapon he can deploy.
“That team knows I throw a lot of sliders and they look for my slider,” Pineda said. “I mix them up and throw my changeup in that situation. A lot of ground balls? This is good.”
And as the Yankees know and are seeing in Pineda this season, a pitcher with the tools and fortitude to win without his best pitch is good, too.