The major concern for Michael Pineda this spring has been velocity, but that has masked another problem for the talented young starter thus far -- a lack of control. On Sunday, for the fourth time in five outings, Pineda could not last the target number of innings because he threw too many pitches.
After 87 pitches, 61 strikes and five innings Sunday, he was out of there. While his strike-to-ball ratio was fine, his inability to put batters away prevented him from going deep into the game.
The fact that Pineda's fastball stayed at 90-92 throughout his start, with the occasional 93 or 94, is still a definite concern if he is going to be a dominant starter. But, right now, he trends toward a fourth or fifth starter, a 12-to-14-wins guy with around a 4.00 ERA.
The lack of control and velocity may just be spring training signs and they should not be confused with absolutes about what Pineda could be this year. It is possible he may just turn it on when he comes north.
Still, as of right now, he is an "if" proposition, far from a finished product. If he can find that make-them-miss 95-plus velocity and combine it with a nasty slider and an improving change, then the possible No. 1 or 2 starter the Yankees wanted for Jesus Montero may eventually arrive.
"I think he is going to be okay," a scout said of Pineda, whose final line was fine (5 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 4 Ks). "He got strong as the game went on [Sunday.] I had him at 89-91 with a couple of 93s. He was not dominant and probably isn't yet what the Yankees expected. But I think when he gets under the lights of Yankee Stadium, he is going to be okay."
After reviewing all of his 87 pitches this morning, what stands out his lack of precision. It began with ex-Yankee Austin Jackson, a strikeout machine, falling behind 0-2 before watching four-straight balls to begin the game. To start the second, Pineda fell behind 2-0 before a Delmon Young hard-hit single to center. Leading off the third, he walked the No. 9 hitter, Danny Worth, on a close, but outside, 3-2, 91-mph fastball.
Pineda ended up having 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth and looked better in the process.
"He got stronger," the scout said.
The Yankees could pare down their six starters for five spots by simply dealing Freddy Garcia, which could be an option. They could put Garcia in the pen, but he seems ill-suited for such a spot and, combining last year's solid season with improved velocity and strong performance this spring (2.92 ERA/.213 batting average against), it would seem unjust.
Ivan Nova, after graduating to the Yankees' No. 2 playoff starter, would figure to be a shoo-in, though his spring numbers (6.86 ERA, .280 BAA) are not good. Phil Hughes, whom the Yankees want in the rotation, has a 2.03 ERA and .220 BAA. Pineda's ERA looks fine at 3.31, but his BAA is .283.
(Let's add, these numbers may not mean anything as CC Sabathia has a 4.50 ERA and a .333 BAA and I doubt anyone is concerned about him.)
Pineda has a lot of trouble keeping his pitch count down, which is not unusual for young pitchers. When the Yankees ultimately decided to make Joba Chamberlain a full-time reliever, it was, in part, because he could not keep his pitch count low enough, which forced the Yankees to burn the bullpen in his starts.
Ultimately, Pineda may be CC's wingman, but he hasn't shown those skills yet. He still needs to get his velocity up and his pitch count down.