The competition to make the Yankees' Opening Day starting rotation seems to get more fierce by the day.
On Sunday, it was Michael Pineda's turn to impress, and impress he did, with five innings of one-run ball in the Yankees' 1-1 10-inning tie with a Detroit Tigers split-squad at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
After a shaky start, in which he allowed multiple base runners in each of the first three innings, Pineda settled down, hurling a 1-2-3 fourth and finishing off his outing with a pair of strikeouts in the fifth. The 23-year-old threw 87 pitches, giving up five hits, with four strikeouts and two walks.
"He seems like he’s starting to put it all together right now," said catcher Russell Martin, who caught Pineda for the third time this spring.
His fastball topped out at 94 miles per hour on a couple of occasions -- not quite as hard as he was throwing for the Seattle Mariners last season, but faster than he was throwing earlier this spring. "I’m not too concerned with it," Martin said of Pineda's velocity. "If you hit 94 here, you can easily just add a couple miles an hour once the competition gets a little more heated [in the regular season]."
"The hitters react like it’s coming in pretty hot," Martin added. "That’s really all that matters."
Perhaps more importantly, Pineda threw plenty of changeups -- the pitch the Yankees have had Pineda working on throughout camp, hoping he can add it to his repertoire. "I threw a lot of changeups today," said Pineda. "I’m very excited, because it’s what I need."
"He’s been pretty consistent with it," said Martin. "If nobody would have told me that he was working on that pitch, I would have never known -- I’d have thought he had it his whole life."
Pineda has now made five spring training starts, and lowered his ERA to 3.31 with Sunday's outing. Manager Joe Girardi said he still needs to see more from his six starters competing for five spots, before he makes his decision.
"I think you look at track record, I think you look at what the guys did for you last year, you look at the way you see the ball coming out of their hand, maybe the command that they have at this point, where we’re going as an organization," Girardi said. "And I’ve always said, we’re not really gonna look to see who fits in the bullpen better. You might weigh that like one or two percent.
"Those are the things that you have to look at, and kind of what your gut’s telling you about what you’re watching with your eyes. It’s not gonna be an easy decision, I can tell you that."
One thing's for sure -- Pineda is starting to look like the kind of pitcher the Yankees were expecting when they traded top prospect Jesus Montero for him during the winter. And the young pitcher is starting to feel good about himself, too.
"I feel very comfortable now," said Pineda. "I feel ready."