Pineda to make Bronx return Wednesday

NEW YORK -- The most recent time Michael Pineda started a game at Yankee Stadium, he was pitching for the first-place New York Yankees.

The most recent time Pineda started in the Bronx, Alfonso Soriano was his cleanup hitter, Scott Sizemore was his third baseman and the Yankees' opening day rotation was still intact.

Not to say it's been a long time, but the most recent time Pineda started a Yankee home game, Carlos Beltran (1.041 OPS) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.353 batting average) looked like outstanding free-agent signings.

Pineda returns to the Yankee Stadium mound Wednesday night to make his second start since coming off the disabled list and his first home start in 126 days. The one thing that hasn't changed is that Pineda still can exhibit the stuff to be a dominating starting pitcher.

"He was throwing 95 mph fastballs that cut," said one scout who watched Pineda's start the past week in Baltimore. "Cutters at 95 and tough sliders -- good luck."

Pineda allowed just two hits in five innings against the Orioles. He showed signs of tiring in the fifth inning, which is not surprising considering he made only two minor-league rehab starts and threw just 72 pitches in the latest one.

With another start behind him and a full week to recover, he'll presumably be prepared to go deeper into the game Wednesday night against the Astros.

Given Pineda's history, it's harder and harder to think the Yankees can count on him, no matter how good he can look when he does pitch. But with the Yankees playing must-win games in their desperate attempt to remain relevant in this year's wild-card race, all that matters is how he'll pitch right now.

One thing that hasn't changed since April is that Pineda can look like a difference-maker.

He was very impressive in that latest Yankee Stadium start and allowed four hits in six scoreless innings against the Cubs. The Cubs' lineup of April was even weaker than the Cubs lineup of now, but still, on that night Pineda looked very good.

On that night, he and the Yankees were filled with hope about what was to come.

"I feel really good, happy," he said then. "I've thrown the ball great for three starts."

A week later, Pineda would pitch at Fenway Park with pine tar on his neck and earn a suspension from major league baseball. He got hurt while he was suspended and missed almost four months.

Five of the Yankees who were in the lineup for his latest home start are gone now (Soriano, Sizemore, Yangervis Solarte, Kelly Johnson and J.R. Murphy). Three of the pitchers who were in the Yankees' rotation then are on the disabled list now (CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka).

The Yankees aren't a first-place team. They seem more focused now on finishing second in the American League wild-card race and sneaking into the playoffs than on any long-shot chance they could catch the Baltimore Orioles and win the division.

So much has changed, including the temperature.

That's not to say it's been a long time since Michael Pineda pitched at Yankee Stadium, but the most recent time he started a game here, the game-time temperature was 47 degrees.