Pineda only bright spot in Yanks' loss

TORONTO -- Let us assume, just for the moment, that eventually, the Yankees will hit a baseball out of a ballpark, and that $438 million of Hal Steinbrenner's money will eventually buy them a timely hit, and that the presence of a knuckleballer on the mound for the Blue Jays is the primary reason why the Yankees' offense looked so 2013 even though we are five games into the 2014 season.

Taking all those assumptions as fact, then there was one very big, very positive thing that came out of the Yankees' 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre on Saturday: Michael Pineda.

In his first bona fide big league game in more than 2 ½ years, Pineda looked a lot like the pitcher the Yankees thought they were getting from the Seattle Mariners when they parted -- reluctantly at the time, gleefully now -- with Jesus Montero, the crown jewel of their farm system, in 2012.

And even though, officially, Pineda has still not won a major league game since July 30, 2011 -- a whopping 33 months -- he can chalk this one up as a moral victory even if his team's impotence at the plate robbed him of an actual one.

Pineda, who snuck into the final slot in the Yankees' starting staff on the strength of an exceptional spring, has now posted the best outing of any of their starters the first time through the rotation. Pineda went six innings, allowing just five hits and one run, striking out five and walking none.

But the number that might mean the most of all was the one that flashed on the scoreboard a half-dozen times in his 83 pitch-day: 95, as in the speed of his fastball. Even for those who maintain velocity is a meaningless statistic, that is an indication that Pineda, who had major surgery after tearing the labrum in his pitching shoulder during his first spring with the Yankees, is either back to where he was before the injury or very close to it.

"Well, he's worked really hard," Joe Girardi said. "We weren't sure where it was going to be. I can't tell you I believed it was going to be 95. I'm sure it means a lot because of all the work he's put in over the past two years."

What it also means is that right now, the two best-looking Yankees starters are the two at the back end of their rotation. After Masahiro Tanaka's gutsy performance in victory Friday night and Pineda's encouraging outing in defeat Saturday, all the Yankees need to do is get their nominal 1-2, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, back on line and they should be able to overcome even an offense as feeble as the one they mounted against R.A. Dickey.

Pineda retired 13 of the last 14 hitters he faced and ran into real trouble only once, when Adam Lind's double leading off the second turned into the game-winning run when Josh Thole singled him home two batters later. Otherwise, he matched Dickey pitch for pitch, and only fell short of his goal -- to return to the ranks of winning major league pitchers -- because the Yankees' lineup could manage only five hits of its own, stranded 10 baserunners and hit a miserable .100 (1-for-10) with runners in scoring position.

But all that was secondary to the performance of Pineda, who against all odds once again looks as if he can be a difference-maker for this ballclub.

"I think it could mean a lot for our team and I'm sure it means a lot to him, to be able to go out and do what he loves, and compete at the highest level," Girardi said. "He spent entirely too much time in that Florida sunshine the past two years, and I'm sure he's really pleased with where he's at today."

Pineda, who sat placidly in the clubhouse listening to Latin music through his earbuds before the game, scoffed at the notion that he was nervous before his first big league start since Sept. 21, 2011.

"Nah, not nervous, excited because I’m pitching a game in the major leagues," he said. "Today was big day for me. My first game for the New York Yankees."

He's been around so long that it was shocking to hear those words, and even more shocking to realize they are true. Pineda has been a Yankee for more than two years but before today had never actually pitched for them. Now, they can look forward to him pitching for them every five days, and assuming the bats come around, as bats inevitably do, reasonably expect that on the days he pitches, they will have a pretty good chance to win.

Pineda's next start is scheduled for Thursday night against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. "I've been waiting two years for this," he said.

To the Yankees and their fans, it must seem like even longer than that. Still, it is never too late to come home, and at long last, Michael Pineda is on his way.

On a day of mostly bad news, that was something to feel good about.