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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Michael Pineda shows he has the right stuff for Yankees

New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda delivers

New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda delivers in the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The evening started at Yankee Stadium with a discussion about an ace, Masahiro Tanaka, who has misplaced his fastball.

Will he ever throw 95 miles per hour again? How about 92? Can he live at 90? It's important, and answers about Tanaka's health and effectiveness may well determine whether the Yankees can contend this season.

But the whole topic can be a little tedious. Two-seamers. Four-seamers. How about we let Tanaka make three or four starts before we send him to the velocity lost and found window?

At least the Yankees got to see what a real, live, crackling fastball -- and a 90-mile per hour changeup -- looks like last night in their 4-3 win over the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

Michael Pineda's first pitch against the Blue Jays was 92. His 96th and final one was clocked at 91. If you're saying, "Hey, wait a minute. That's not much faster than Tanaka's fastball was clocked on Opening Day," you're right.

But Pineda's fastball looked faster. It sounded faster. It moved more. And, unlike Tanaka's disastrous outing on Opening Day, it helped Pineda pitch well against the Blue Jays.

Pineda allowed two scratch runs in six innings. On a fiercely cold night, he gave up six hits, walked one and struck out six.

He left on the short end of a 2-0 score and ended up with a no-decision when the Yankees rallied in the eighth for their first win of the season.

Pineda struck out the first batter, Jose Reyes, on a 90-mph dart that went down and away from the switch-hitter batting lefthanded.

David Cone, who won 194 games in the major leagues, laughed and called it a "power changeup" on YES. Ken Singleton, who hit 246 home runs, couldn't identify what it was other than unhittable.

"Yes, that was a changeup," a beaming Pineda said later. The pride, and growing confidence, was obvious on the 26-year-old's face.

The changeup is a pitch he's been working on for some time. If he's going to throw it 90 mph with vicious movement? Watch out.

"I threw a lot of change-ups -- and good change-ups," said Pineda, who also seems more polished in his English when he does interviews. "It's working pretty good. I'm happy with that. Especially this year, hitters don't know about my changeup. I worked really hard my offseason to be better with my changeup. Now, I have a good changeup and it's working."

If Tanaka's outing (four innings, five runs, four earned, one loss) led to obvious questions, Pineda's outing continued the big righty's quest to provide answers. That he can stay healthy. That he can overpower batters. That he can be the ace the Yankees need if Tanaka can't.

"He's a much different guy," manager Joe Girardi said of the pitcher who seemed overwhelmed when he joined the Yankees in 2012.

Pineda has put the two years on the shelf after shoulder surgery behind him. He has also moved past the pine tar incident from last April 23 at Fenway Park, the second one in Yankees history and the first not involving Billy Martin or George Brett.

Doubt resurfaced during his long DL stint last season with an upper back strain. The Yankees had no reason to believe Pineda would ever be someone you could depend on. Until he returned and was brilliant, finishing with a 5-5 record and 1.89 ERA in a total of 13 starts.

Appetites were whetted. Expectations were raised. And with the uncertainty surrounding Tanaka's elbow and CC Sabathia's knee, Pineda became as important as any 2015 Yankee.

The Yankees are 1-1 in the standings and 1-1 in getting early answers about their starting pitchers.

Thursday night, Sabathia is on the clock. Better keep those radar guns handy.


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