VIERA, Fla. -- Michael Pineda was up to snuff and up to the competition Thursday. He was up to the Yankees' expectations, especially with his changeup, which was targeted early as his Achilles' heel. It just remains to be seen if he is up to speed.
Pineda was upbeat about his 32/3 innings against the Nationals because of the changeup, on which he has been working hard ever since general manager Brian Cashman called it a "below average" pitch. "I'm really happy today," Pineda said after his 65 pitches in the Yankees' 8-5 victory. "I threw a very good slider today, but I'm very excited because today my changeup was great."
He was confident enough to throw the off-speed pitch on 2-and-2 and 3-and-2 counts. He struck out Ryan Zimmerman looking with it and ended an inning on a weak groundout with it. "I was pleased with what I saw," Russell Martin said. "A lot of positive things were coming out of that pitch today."
So afterward, what did everyone want to talk about? His fastball.
That topped out at 92 after reaching 93 Saturday, sparking speculation that 93 isn't really fast enough for a big, strong, 23-year-old power pitcher. Consider it Pineda's "Welcome to New York" moment.
"My fastball is coming. I want to pitch the game, focus on the game. This year, I focus a little more on my changeup than work on my fastball," the 6-7, 270-pound Pineda said without the broad smile he displayed when he initially described the day as "awesome."
Joe Girardi said, "Because of what we went through with Hughesy, I think everyone is much more concerned about velocity this year." Phil Hughes' loss of velocity in spring training last year was the first sign of a tailspin from an All-Star season in 2010.
Of Pineda, the manager said, "We still have time to get his fastball where we need it to be. He might come out in his fifth start and rev it to 94 or 95 and then we're going to say, 'We talked about it for nothing.' We've got to let him develop his arm strength. What has he thrown, nine innings? To me, nine innings is pretty quick to judge."
Pineda allowed two runs, four hits and one walk, striking out four, and Martin said it seemed as though he threw harder Thursday than he had Saturday. "I'm not worried about it. He has it in him," the catcher said. "As soon as you put on the uniform, you're in New York and you get the juices flowing, the velocity is going to pick up."
Bill Hall, who played third Thursday, said, "I've been behind him on the field in every start he's had and I've been in multiple positions, so I've seen him from a few angles. He threw his changeup well today, he had guys off balance. Obviously, everybody knows how good his slider is. His fastball control was good. He has definitely got the talent."
But if Pineda's fastball doesn't get faster, this has the makings of a crisis, considering he was the No. 1 marquee pickup in New York this offseason.
Then again, what's wrong with a little crisis? Girardi, noting that pitching coach Larry Rothschild encourages Pineda daily to be unconcerned with what the radar gun and newspapers say, pointed out, "It's not such a bad idea for him to learn what he's going to live with, being in New York. He's getting a little baptism right now."