KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Joe Girardi perfectly synopsized the trouble in Michael Pineda’s career before the righthander’s second outing of spring training.
“For Michael, it’s consistency more than anything else,” Girardi said. “Because we see how dominant he can be. Some innings can be really, really easy, and then he’ll get in a little blip.”
The blip occurred in the first inning of the Yankees’ 8-7 victory over the Braves on Thursday afternoon at Champion Stadium as Pineda allowed the only two runs of his three-inning outing.
But catcher Austin Romine said it was an otherwise successful afternoon because of a third pitch Pineda is attempting to add.
“We accomplished what we wanted to today,” Romine said. “And that was to throw changeups to everybody.”
Pineda, the team’s No. 2 starter, allowed two runs and three hits in his three innings. The 6-7, 260-pound righthander, who did not walk a batter and struck out one, allowed all three hits in the first. He wasn’t as good as he had been in his debut five days earlier in Lakeland, when he struck out the last five Tigers he faced in a scoreless two-inning outing, but he did retire the final eight batters he faced Thursday.
“I threw the ball pretty good today, especially my fastball,” said Pineda, who reached 93 mph and sat mostly around 92, according to scouts in the stands. “I felt very strong today. My first outing, the slider worked great. Today I missed with a couple of sliders, but everything felt good.”
Pineda got ahead of leadoff man Ozzie Albies 1-and-2 before he singled up the middle on a slider. Johan Comargo followed with an RBI double, driving a 1-and-0 fastball over the head of centerfielder Brett Gardner, who had led off the game with a homer off righthander Aaron Blair. One out later, Matt Kemp ripped a 1-and-2 slider down the third-base line for an RBI double that made it 2-1.
Pineda then struck out Kurt Suzuki on a slider and got Austin Riley to fly to left.
“He threw some decent changeups today,” Girardi said. “He threw some of them where he really yanked them too much. But he worked on it. He made a few mistakes today, but we’re trying to get him to work on that pitch [changeup].”
Pineda has been primarily a fastball-slider pitcher in his career, the reason he’s working on the changeup. Though scouts generally consider his fastball and slider to be “plus” pitches, he’s been prone to the big mistake with both, the reason for his 32-37 career record and 3.99 ERA.
That was especially the case last season, when he went 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA and allowed a career-worst 27 home runs. He did strike out 207 in 175 2⁄3 innings, both career highs.
“Everybody sees the stuff, everybody knows about the stuff,” Romine said. “Everybody knows. I catch him all the time. It’s fun to catch. It could be crazy numbers he puts out that day.”
Such as the 16-strikeout, no-walk seven innings he threw against the Orioles in May 2015. But, as Girardi said, it’s about consistency. And all believe a usable changeup can only help.
“It’s another pitch that adds to the repertoire so he’s not just fastball-slider; you can’t sit on two pitches,” Romine said. “When you get big-league hitters who are thinking about three pitches, it adds to the difficulty of hitting. So we’re trying to get it going. Today he threw seven or eight of them. He was shaking to it, he wanted to work on it, he wanted to throw it. The thing about Mike is he’s always working hard. You never hear him complain.”