An Uphill Climb For Pineda

Originally published April 3rd, 2012

Hindsight is always 20/20, right?  The 2012 baseball season has barely started (there were games that counted this week!) and it’s hard to think of a trade a team would rather have back now than the Yankees trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.  Brian Cashman will never say it publicly, but you can read between the lines of his Spring Training interviews; the Yankees weren’t happy with Michael Pineda’s offseason conditioning, they’ve been concerned about his velocity, and now they’re starting the season with Pineda on the 15 day DL w/tendonitis.  As far as Yankees fans and their media is concerned, Michael Pineda is a bust.

It’s hard to see the tide turn on Pineda so quickly in New York.  I wrote about the trade back in January.  I didn’t agree with it at the time, but I understood why the Mariners made the trade.  The chance for Seattle to trade for a prospective middle of the order bat was too hard for them to pass up, even at the cost of someone many considered Rookie Of The Year in 2011.  An All Star in his rookie year, Michael Pineda showed a swagger and attitude that matched his 6’7″ frame.  A lot of the media set him as the Yankees #2 starter behind CC Sabathia.  Until Spring Training.

Michael Pineda didn’t help his cause when he showed up to Spring Training 20lbs heavier than last year.  Pineda looked tired at the end of the 2011 season.  It was the second consecutive year he’d been shut down in September.  Michael said all the right things when he was traded, but showing up “overweight” started him in a hole he couldn’t dig out of.  Failing to hit over 92MPH on the gun was the second strike, and a Spring Training ERA of over 5.50 put him down and out.  Pineda looked hitable, but there was something else there.  He didn’t look “right”.

It’s frustrating to read about Pineda’s injury, but not surprising.  I’ve watched Pineda pitch over the last two years, both in Seattle and before that in Tacoma.  He has a violent delivery that even when he was traded some experts speculated could lead to injury.  The problem for Pineda now is that he’s battling more than just injury.  For Yankee fans, or fans of Pineda as a player (like me), we need to be worried more about Pineda’s psyche than how he’ll recover from the DL.  Pineda at his strongest carried an attitude when he pitched.  I watched him and saw an attitude that was a mesh between Felix Hernandez and Randy Johnson.  You could see a confidence that he was the best player on the field, and a glint of anger in his eyes that made you feel like he would drill you in a heartbeat if you crossed him or showed him up at the plate.  The test for Michael Pineda when he returns is whether he will still have that same attitude and confidence that made him successful and a fan favorite with the Mariners.

I feel for Pineda.  At 23yrs old a setback, mixed with the negative attention and feedback he’s getting from fans and the media, could hurt his development.  It would be a sad thing to see a player with a load of talent, and energy to match, go backwards.  I want him to win — I want him to succeed — I hope that Yankees fans and their staff find ways to help him thru it.  I’d hate to see Pineda relegated to a relief pitcher early in his career, it’s going to be hard enough on him when he almost certainly starts the season in AAA.

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