ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Give the Yankees credit for the Michael Pineda trade. In essence, they got the big righty from Seattle in 2012 for Jesus Montero, who went from can’t-miss prospect to overweight, twice steroid-suspended bust.
And give the Yankees credit for getting Pineda back on the mound after he missed more than two seasons after serious shoulder surgery. They were patient, and Pineda worked hard to come back from an injury that can often mean the end of a career.
That’s where the credit ends, though, for both player and team.
Pineda continues to be a tease and the Yankees continue to be confounded by how to get the most out of the 28-year-old.
On Wednesday night, in his first start of the season, Pineda lasted 3 2⁄3 innings in the Yankees’ 4-1 defeat to the Rays at Tropicana Field. He allowed four runs on eight hits with six strikeouts.
Pineda allowed a home run to Corey Dickerson, the first batter he faced in 2017. He allowed three two-out runs in the second inning. He departed with two men on in the fourth, so it could have been worse.
Pineda is a free agent at season’s end. The Yankees would love nothing more than to see him flower and have to pony up a big-money deal.
Don’t bet on it, though. It’s more likely Pineda’s Yankees career will end with a what-might-have-been shrug of the shoulders.
The longer term issue: Can the Yankees successfully develop any starting pitchers, let alone a whole rotation? Remember, If Masahiro Tanaka opts out at season’s end, the Yankees will have zero established starters under contract for 2018.
The last big-time starter the Yankees nurtured and developed on their own was Andy Pettitte. He lives on a ranch now outside Houston.
While we all focus on their stable of position-player prospects — anything new on the fake news about Clint Frazier and Mickey Mantle’s uniform number? — how the Yankees’ rebuilding efforts eventually turn out may hinge more on whether they can build a rotation out of the young arms that should be popping up in the Bronx later this summer or even next spring.
Pitchers are expensive. It’s best to grow your own.
The two top arms in the current rotation are Pineda and Luis Severino, the latter of whom will make his season debut on Friday in Baltimore. Severino is 23 and has No. 1 or 2-type stuff. He also went 0-8 with an 8.50 ERA as a starter last season after a dazzling debut in 2015.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild works as hard as anyone. He has worked hard with Pineda.
“Michael might’ve left Larry scratching his head more than anybody else,” manager Joe Girardi said. On whether he personally spent the offseason wondering how to get Pineda better, Girardi said: “Offseason, in-season, mid-season. Every season.”
But if Pineda and Severino don’t get better under Rothschild’s tutelage, it’s fair to wonder if he should be the one to shepherd the next wave, the group that includes James Kaprielian and Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery and Justus Sheffield and Dillon Tate and whoever else emerges from the minors.
As for Pineda, you’ve heard this before. The stuff is there but the consistent results aren’t. It’s been that way for a while.
From 2014 — after he returned from his shoulder injury — through the first half of 2015, Pineda went 14-10 with a 2.91 ERA. It was easy to be seduced.
Since the second half of the 2015 season, though, Pineda is 9-18, 5.12. It’s a pretty big sample size. The Yankees don’t really have any answers.
“For Michael, it’s eliminating the mistakes is really what it comes down to,” Girardi said. “Obviously, the stuff is there. It’s his location.”
Eventually, if this keeps up, Pineda’s location is going to be elsewhere.