It's been almost a year and a half since the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda. Sometimes it feels like it's been even longer than that. The reports about his early spring performance in sim games and bullpen sessions has been more than encouraging, but yesterday he took the next real step in his comeback when the team announced that he would begin his 30-day MiL rehab assignment this Saturday with High-A Tampa. He was reportedly sitting mid-90s again in his latest ExST start on Monday and hasn't had any physical issues outside of a cracked fingernail to hold him back. At long last, the Yanks and us Yankee fans, will get a look at their haul from that now infamous January, 2012 trade.
This next big comeback step for Pineda will be his first big step in a Yankee career that has yet to even have one. Pineda's only Yankee-related claim to fame is being the pitcher who got hurt and missed the season right after the team traded its best prospect for him. The hype that came with Pineda's age, size, stuff, and rookie year results after the trade was completely washed away when the news of his shoulder injury came out. Pineda will start his Yankee career on the bad side of the fanbase that still remembers the sting of the Carl Pavanos and Kevin Browns of the world, almost needing to re-prove that he actually is a good pitcher. That's a tough position for any early-20s player to find himself in, especially in New York, and yet Pineda almost has a red carpet of opportunity laid out for him already.
The Yankee rotation has been a strength for the team this year. It's also never had a shortage of problems or areas of concern. From CC's diminished velocity to Andy's back to Ivan Nova's ability to Phil's inconsistency, the only thing that's been a certainty through 58 games is Hiroki Kuroda's now cemented status as a boss and one of the greatest free agent signings in the Cashman Era. CC seems to be overcoming the velocity thing and Nova might already be out of a job, but Andy and Phil's issues are going to remain through the remainder of the season and those issues are going to be Pineda's in when his 30 days or so is up and he's ready to come back up to the show.
Because let's get one thing clear. While the Yankees have done everything in their power to downplay their expectations for Pineda this season, they didn't make this trade for S's and G's. They brought Pineda in here to pitch, and to hopefully pitch at the top of the rotation. When he's deemed ready to go, there isn't going to be any hesitation in getting him in there. There can't be. The team's lost a year of expected production from this kid and they need to know what they have. They need to know if that top-of-the-rotation arm they went and got is still that and can be counted on to be that for next year and beyond.
Now that's not to say that I think the Yankees should or will rush Pineda out there with no restrictions as soon as the 30 days are up. He's going to be closely monitored and he'll probably be on a pitch count and I'm all for that. But he won't be sitting around on the sidelines chewing seeds while Phil gives up another HR after getting 0-2. Whether it's moving Phil to the 'pen, Andy to the DL, or by some other means, Michael Pineda is going to be in this rotation when he's ready. Even David Phelps might want to be on alert. No more 0.1-inning outings, guy.
There was that brief spark of anticipation after the trade when knowledgeable fans and writers got educated on Pindea. Knowing what he's reportedly been doing in his rehab outings so far, this latest step forward in his comeback should bring some of that spark back.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)