BALTIMORE -- If there were any doubts about how big a series the Yankees think this one with the division-leading Orioles is, they were dispelled the moment it was announced that Michael Pineda would return to the starting rotation -- after just two rehab starts -- for Wednesday night's series finale.
Asked if Pineda would've been brought back this quickly had the Yankees been in less dire straits, Joe Girardi said, "I'm sure that's possible."
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But he admitted Pineda was cleared to return "quicker than what we planned, but that's OK."
"His stuff was good," Girardi said of Pineda's two rehab outings, in which he allowed nine hits and just one earned run over 7 1/3 innings. "We feel he's ready now."
Pineda said he was "a little surprised" to get the call so quickly, but he agreed with Girardi that he is ready to return despite the short rehab stint.
“Everything is the same. Everything looks good," he said. "I’m happy I’m feeling really good. I’m feeling powerful. I’m happy with that. I’m so excited."
Pineda was not as excited to hear questions about his pine tar use, for which he served a 10-game suspension just before going on the DL on May 6.
“I know I make a mistake, so I learned from that," he said. "Everything is in the past right now. I want to continue my career, and that’s it. I’m focused on my game, and I’m focused on pitching. I said sorry to my team and sorry to everybody, so now everything is in the past. I want to continue my career, and I want to help my team right now."
Asked point-blank if he would continue to use pine tar on the ball, Pineda answered in one word: "No."
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Beltran close to outfield return: Carlos Beltran is in his usual spot as the DH in the Yankees lineup, but Girardi indicated he could return to the outfield as quickly as this week. "I think I could probably do it in the real near future," he said.
Beltran has not played in the outfield since May 10. He went on the DL three days after that with a bone spur in his right elbow that makes throwing painful. But Girardi would like to have the option to use Beltran in the outfield so he can give some his other veterans an occasional DH day.
Tanaka tosses again: Masahiro Tanaka made 50 throws at 90 feet this afternoon, and Girardi said he would extend the distance to 120 feet tomorrow. "I think you start thinking about flat ground, and after that flat ground you start thinking about a mound," Girardi said.
Although Girardi said Tanaka "has let it go a little bit," he still has not thrown anything resembling a pitch yet, and Girardi acknowledged that it will be impossible to really know if his elbow is healed until he does.
"The fact that he feels good and he's not feeling on that is obviously a positive sign," Girardi said. "But when you're throwing pitches, the intensity is obviously higher."
McCann to be tested this week: Brian McCann, currently on the seven-day concussion DL after taking a foul tip off the mask Friday, will be tested sometime this week and given some light exercise to gauge if he is close to returning.
"I talked to him yesterday, and he felt better than he had the day before," Girardi said. "If he goes through the exercise and doesn't feel the effects of what he felt before, then he would do baseball activity the next day. I'm kind of hoping it will be [Tuesday], but we'll see."
Girardi, who often jokes about having taken "too many foul tips" during his career behind the plate, said he had never suffered a concussion from being hit in the mask.
"I don't ever remember having those feelings that these guys have had," he said. "I don't know if it's because the mask is different today, if it's because of the velocity, but he got hit with a curveball in a sense. And everyone's skull is different and how it affects you might be different. I just never remember feeling that way."