When Michael Pineda arrived in a 2012 trade with Seattle, it seemed a case of the rich getting richer with the Yankees adding his potential to a deep pitching staff. But that was the beginning of three largely wasted seasons for Pineda, who missed that season and half of the next after surgery on his throwing shoulder and finished 2013 in the minors working his way back.
Pineda went 5-5 with a 1.87 ERA last season, but it was most memorable for the 10-game suspension he received for using pine tar to doctor the ball and the DUI he received during a two-month injury rehab assignment in Tampa. Suddenly, that's ancient history.
Pineda has emerged as the ace of a thin Yankees starting pitching staff. That never was more evident than on a sunny Mother's Day afternoon as Pineda fanned a career-high 16 Orioles in a 6-2 Yankees victory that had 39,059 fans at Yankee Stadium on their feet applauding.
Pineda improved to 5-0 with a 2.72 ERA, and his strikeouts to-walks ratio of 54/3 is nothing short of phenomenal. His 16 Ks were achieved in only seven full innings, making him the seventh pitcher since 1900 to accomplish that feat and the first Yankee to record 16 strikeouts without a walk. He fell two strikeouts short of Ron Guidry's club record of 18 set on June 17, 1978, but tied David Cone for the team record by a righthander.
"I feel great, especially because today is Mother's Day," a beaming Pineda said after the game.
Asked if his mom watched, Pineda said, "I think so. She's in the Dominican. I had great energy today, especially because today is Mother's Day. I love my mom, and I love all mothers. I don't know how to explain how happy I am right now, but I'm very happy."
Joe Girardi attributed the 26-year-old's improvement to the development of a slider to complement his fastball and changeup and to simple maturation. "That's as good as we've seen," Girardi said.
Pineda's only misstep came in the second inning when J.J. Hardy drove a slider into the leftfield seats for a 1-0 Orioles lead. Even so, it was obvious from the start that Pineda was on as he rang up strikeouts on six of the first seven O's outs and 14 of the first 17, including a streak of six from the final out of the fourth to the second out of the sixth.
"In the first inning, I threw the first slider and said, 'Everything is working perfect today,' '' Pineda said.
The Yankees provided four runs in the fourth on a solo home run by Carlos Beltran, an RBI single by Didi Gregorius and a two-run double by Jacoby Ellsbury that finished starter Bud Norris (1-4). Catcher Brian McCann added a solo homer in the fifth, and Gregorius doubled home the last run in the seventh.
"He's a dominant guy," McCann said of Pineda. "The movement he gets creates pitches you don't see every night. His stuff today was electric."
Explaining his growth, Pineda said, "In the last couple years, little things happen with me. I love to play baseball, so I want to continue my career and everything that happened with me, I'm putting in the past. I want to grow up. I'm a better person. I'm a better man."
Describing his career-best game, Pineda added, "When you have a game like that, your heart is happy."