The final line of 5 earned runs and 9 hits against in 6+ innings didn't look great to the naked eye, but if you watched the game last night you probably thought Michael Pineda pitched much better than his line indicated. He was locating his fastball and slider well, showing great command of each, getting a ton of swings and misses, and he even mixed in another solid batch of changeups. After 2 starts, one thing that stands out with Pineda compared to last year is his use of the changeup early. I ID'd it as one of the things to watch for in his first start and he didn't disappoint, using it 12 times and getting some empty swings on it. Last night he broke the pitch out 14 times against the Oriole lineup, and once again it was a very effective and useful pitch for him. The sample sizes are still very small this early, but the statistical implications of the 26 changeups Pineda has thrown are very inspiring.
According to Brooks Baseball, those 26 changes represent the pitch most thrown out of the strike zone by Pineda (42.31% ball) thus far and also the most pitch that has generated the most swings (57.69%). That combination in and of itself is a positive, as it suggests a pitch that hitters aren't reading well and most likely swinging when they shouldn't be, and that suggestion is backed up by the fact that Pineda's 26 changes have also been the most swung at and missed of his 3 main offerings (26.92%). Even in a sample this small, you can see how the results are in line with what you would expect from a pitcher who has gotten better and more comfortable with the pitch.
Think back to Chris Davis' at-bats last night. He took home a golden sombrero and he had Pineda and the changeup to thank for 3 of them. Pineda fanned him on 3 pitches (fastball, changeup, slider) in the bottom of the 1st, got him fishing again on a beautiful 2-2 change to end the 3rd, and threw a change early in the count in the eventual 6-pitch strikeout in the 6th. Pineda used the pitch in different ways in each at-bat and mixed in his other 2 pitches in all 3 of the at-bats as well. That's not something we saw him do a lot, if ever, last year and Davis had no answer for it.
Expanding the Davis examples to left-handed hitters in general, it's clear that Pineda is making a conscious attempt to utilize his change more against them as a way to keep them off his fastballs. 17 of the 26 he's thrown have been thrown to lefties and they've whiffed on almost 30% of them. As shown by the graphic below, Pineda has done an excellent job keeping the pitch down and dropping it out of the strike zone to get those swings and misses.
Of course Pineda could come out in his next start, not have the feel for his change, get knocked around on it a little bit, and all of this goes away. But from what he's shown so far, the risk of that happening appears to be significantly less than it would have been at this time last year. Pineda isn't throwing his changeup like someone who's still trying to make it work for him. He's throwing it like someone who has figured it out, knows it will work for him, and knows how to use it to make it work for him. He's already got the advantage of having a changeup that he can throw a little harder and with more late movement than hitters are used to seeing. If he's going to command it like he has through 2 starts, that could be bad news for the rest of the American League.