Pitching is supposed to get harder for starters as games wear on, but not for Michael Pineda.
Pineda allowed one run and two hits with 12 strikeouts and three walks in six innings of a no-decision Thursday against the Rangers. His only blemish, as has often been the case this season, came early, as Shin-Soo Choo led off the game with a home run. He allowed a single and a walk later in the first inning, but allowed only one runner past first base the rest of the way.
“I threw everything I got on the mound, my last six starts have been good, and I’m happy with that,” said Pineda, who had a 2.75 ERA with 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings in six starts in June. He entered June with a 6.92 ERA, but even during his early struggles, he made a habit of getting stronger later in games.
Through the first two innings of his starts, Pineda has an 8.44 ERA, but just a 3.45 ERA from that point on.
Joe Girardi said the righty has displayed an ability to respond to adversity this season. “He’s bounced back. He was going through a difficult time,” the manager said. “But he never stopped working. He kept trying to improve himself and he’s on a good roll right now.”
On Choo’s home run: “I tried to be aggressive with my fastball and he got it,” Pineda said. “I walked on the mound and said ‘OK, Big Mike, keep your head up and focus right now. Give the opportunity to my team to win the game.”
With runners on first and second, Pineda struck out Rougned Odor to end the first and retired 15 of the next 17 Rangers, marking another game in which he got stronger as the game went on.
Opponents came into Thursday with an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of 1.053 the first time they see Pineda before posting a .752 and .678 OPS the second and third times through the lineup, respectively.
Most big-league starters show the opposite trend, as the average OPS this season rises from .722 to .749 to .783 each time a pitcher goes through the order.
Pineda said there was no real change in approach driving the splits, but because batters late in the game already have seen his pitches, he said the key is to “just be aggressive.”
“It’s something we’ve been working on,” Girardi said of the disparity between Pineda’s early- and late-game results. “The big thing is that he does everything he can to get it going right away.”
Said Pineda: “I want to continue to work and finish strong.”