TAMPA, Fla. - Joe Girardi said he knew early in the spring, before exhibition games even began, that Michael Pineda had a chance win a spot in the Yankees' rotation.
When the games did start, the 25-year-old reinforced that opinion and the righthander got his reward yesterday when he was officially named the fifth starter.
"It was pretty early when I was watching him throw his bullpens," Girardi said before Tuesday night's game against the Phillies in Clearwater. "I kept saying the ball's coming out easy, he looks really good. I'm not surprised the way he's pitched from what I saw . . . when we got here."
For Pineda, scheduled to make his first start April 5 in Toronto, Tuesday marked the near completion of a comeback from shoulder surgery in 2012, his first season with the Yankees.
"Today is a big day for me," the 25-year-old Pineda said Tuesday, smiling throughout his interview session with reporters.
Pineda, acquired from the Mariners in the Jesus Montero deal before the 2012 season, arrived at spring training that year overweight, angering more than a few in the organization.
His fastball velocity, consistently in the mid- to high-90s the first half of 2011 when he went 8-5 with a 2.58 ERA in his first 17 starts, rarely surpassed 90 mph and shoulder issues soon followed. A torn labrum was eventually diagnosed in April and surgery followed.
"I'm so excited because I've been working hard for the last two years to be here in New York for my team and help my team," Pineda said. "Today they told me I'd be the fifth starter and that made me happy because I've been working hard to get here."
A week before pitchers and catcher reported for spring training Pineda, standing outside the club's minor-league complex after a morning workout, said: "I'm the same Michael Pineda."
Meaning, the same Pineda from the first half of 2011.
He then went out and, while not quite with the same velocity, pitched that way in the spring, beating out David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuño for the fifth spot by posting a 1.20 ERA over four outings (15 innings). His fastball touched 95 mph and sat mostly in the 92-94 range.
"He threw extremely well," Girardi said. "It was what we wanted to see from him and he improved each outing. At times he was dominant, and we really liked what we saw."
One opposing team scout said he was surprised how good Pineda looked this spring.
"He looked a lot like the guy I saw in 2011," the scout said Tuesday. "Much sharper than I expected."
Although most in the Yankees' hierarchy wanted Pineda to go out and emphatically win the fifth starter job, the deck was not stacked in his or any pitcher's favor. And Pineda certainly did earn it as all those competing threw well. Phelps posted a 2.75 ERA in five appearances, Warren a 2.08 ERA in three outings and Nuño a 1.50 ERA in two outings.
Girardi said Phelps and Warren were headed for the bullpen and Nuño, a lefty, could be headed there as well.
Phelps said he was "disappointed" in the decision but is ready to "do whatever is needed to help the team win."
Pineda, who will throw at the minor league complex Sunday after the team heads to Houston for the season opening series, is more than ready to put his previous two years behind him.
"I don't think anything about my shoulder, I'm putting everything on the batter," Pineda said. "I want to continue my career and I want to be here for a long time."