With each Michael Pineda spring training fastball that failed to reach the mid-90s, there came a reminder that the Yankees weren't seeing the pitcher they thought they traded for.
In the wake of the 23-year-old's diagnosis Wednesday -- a right shoulder anterior labral tear requiring arthroscopic surgery next Tuesday that will keep him out for at least a year -- comes this question: Will the Yankees ever see the Michael Pineda they believed they were getting from the Mariners?
The word "optimistic" was used Wednesday by Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman and team physician Christopher Ahmad -- who will assist Dr. David Altchek in the surgery -- but all involved freely admit that no one knows.
"I was around Chris Carpenter in St. Louis when he had to have two labrum surgeries," Girardi said of the Cardinals star, who had the procedures in 2002. "He's been pretty good for them for a long time. And then you have the guys on the other side. They don't ever quite get back to what they were."
Is it realistic for Pineda to come back with the arm strength he displayed most of last season, when his fastball sat consistently at 95 to 97 mph? "I don't see any reason why not," said Dr. Alexis C. Colvin, an orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor of orthopedics at Mount Sinai Hospital.
"One thing in his favor is he's in such good shape to begin with [as a professional athlete]," Colvin said Thursday.
Said Cashman, "We're cautiously optimistic. We're not going to downplay the significance of this injury, but there is a high success rate coming back from this particular surgery. It certainly could be better. It could be worse if it involved rotator cuff. But it's not a good situation regardless. But he is in great hands with these two doctors."
Ahmad said his reason for optimism is that Pineda's rotator cuff appears to be unaffected. He said that as long as the labrum can be repaired with arthroscopic surgery, the 12-month timeframe for his return is realistic.
"In general, when surgery requires an open procedure, it means it's much more severe and the prognosis is different," Ahmad said. "So this will be arthroscopic, that's what we anticipate, and it does have a different and better prognosis than injuries that require open surgery."
Johan Santana had shoulder surgery in September 2010 and returned just this year. But his injury was considered more severe, a torn anterior capsule that could not be repaired arthroscopically. "I don't know enough about Santana's injury to directly compare it," Ahmad said, "but this is an injury where we feel very confident that this can be treated arthroscopically."
Colvin said that point is important. "When it's an open procedure, you're cutting through different muscle planes and it's typically more painful and a longer recovery," she said.
Pineda hadn't started a game yet, and even without the setback, his return was weeks away. But the rotation, thought to be a strength, has struggled. Top prospects such as Dellin Betances, who has had command problems, and Manny Banuelos, who was ineffective before landing on the disabled list with back pain, also haven't produced.
"Some of our guys have got to get going," Cashman said. "They're better than what they've shown the first two weeks of the season, at the major-league level and Triple-A, and then other guys we're feeling really good about. So do I feel we have depth? Yes. But you have to acknowledge at the same time we have some guys currently that we need to get on track."