TAMPA, Fla. -- It is nearly two years to the day since a puzzled and hurting Michael Pineda left the mound at George M. Steinbrenner Field, having been smacked around by the Philadelphia Phillies for six runs in less than three innings. Even more alarming, the numbers on the radar gun never topped 91 mph, just months after he completed a rookie season in which his fastball averaged nearly 97 mph, the highest in baseball.
Major shoulder surgery followed, as did a long period of recovery, rehabilitation and to some extent, reinvention. The Yankees stopped viewing Pineda, whom they had acquired from the Seattle Mariners in a trade for Jesus Montero, their No. 1 prospect, as a potential ace. They were just hoping to see him on the mound again someday.
On Sunday, Pineda makes his third start, and fourth appearance, of the spring against the Toronto Blue Jays, in his bid to win the fifth and final spot in the Yankees starting rotation. He is still a step or two behind the others -- while most of the Yankees starters have been stretched out to 85 or 90 pitches, Pineda has yet to throw more than 60. His last outing, 4 1/3 innings, was his longest since before the injury. And the gun still has yet to read 96, although there have been some 93s and even a 94.
By the numbers, the No. 5 starter's job should belong to Pineda. Over nine innings this spring, he has yet to allow a run and surrendered eight hits. But the most eye-popping stat of all is this -- in those nine innings, he has struck out 14 and walked only one. Clearly, the potential for something special is still there.
The Blue Jays are sending a pretty solid lineup to The Boss. Jose Bautista will be here, as will Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie. It will be a solid test for Pineda, who has already come so far but still has a long way to go. He will probably be given a limit of 75 pitches today, and since there is another five days of spring training to go after Monday's off day, it is conceivable he could get one more start before the team breaks camp.
But Joe Girardi has said he hoped to name his fifth starter by the end of the weekend, meaning sometime after today's game. That means today, Michael Pineda has one more shot to show the Yankees that what happned on this field just about two years ago is part of his distant past, and the future they all had expected is still in front of him.
Here is Sunday's Yankees lineup:
Derek Jeter SS
Michael Pineda RHP
For the second time this spring, Beltran is hosting a get-together for the Yankees rookies in the pavilion behind the fields. Beltran flies in his personal chef and pays for the food and entertainment as a way of providing a bonding experience between the veteran Yankees and the farmhands ... Today is a great day for Ichiro to show Joe Girardi what he's got left. His career batting average against Blue Jays starter Mark Buehrle is .421 (24-for-57) ... Obviously, Jacoby Ellsbury will not play until Tuesday at the earliest. He is scheduled to go through a full workout today, and Girardi has said it was possible he might use Ellsbury in a minor-league game before returning him to major-league competition in the final days of camp.