By Rich Mancuso /Sports Editor
Michael Pineda was sharp and there is no other word to describe the New York Yankees righthander and on Opening Day in the Bronx it was almost perfection. He was perfect through 6.2 innings before a two-out double that the Rays’ Evan Longoria hit sharply to left field. The Yankees would secure Pineda’s first victory of the season by beating the Rays, 8-1.
But there was a moment, and at Yankee Stadium where this looked like to be another special day in the Bronx. And it also was the Michael Pineda the Yankees hope to get every fourth or fifth day on the mound. The fastball hit all cylinders, the slider had momentum and the changeup was effective against the left hand hitters.
When asked to describe what was going on in the Yankees dugout before Longoria became the first base runner for Tampa Bay, manager Joe Girardi said, “Thinking it’s going to be another special day at the stadium.”
And with 46,955 Opening Day fans riding every pitch, Pineda made them believers because the Yankees need the youngster to step up with a starting rotation that had a lot of questions coming into the season. They can depend on Masahiro Tanaka and don’t know what to expect from the veteran lefthander CC Sabathia.
But a consistent and effective Michael Pineda, well that makes this Yankees team a lot better and more optimistic in a season that is not supposed to go towards a championship route. You can say Pineda has the skeptics, and his reputation for losing focus on the mound does give him that bad rap but Monday afternoon on a day perfect for baseball, Michael Pineda got the skeptics going in another direction.
“It’s satisfying because he did pitch well,” Girardi said. The manager was pleased with the focus and mentality, More so it was the Michael Pineda the Yankees have come to expect and on this day it was more. At a point, there was talk that this was going to be a historic Opening Day in the Bronx.
And because Michael Pineda threw strikes, 67 of them on 93 pitches, he was special in the Yankees 8-1 home opening win over the Rays.
From the fourth inning on, Pineda had to notice something special was happening. The crowd was with him, his teammates in the dugout do as all ballplayers do when a special moment may be closing in. They ignored Pineda and he went back to work.
After the Longoria hit that spoiled the possible and historic moment, Pineda went back on the hill. He said about the moment, “Don’t lose focus ….be aggressive.” And that he was, attacking and continuing to throw strikes in becoming the first Yankees pitcher to be perfect through at least 6.2 innings since Andy Pettitte in August of 2009.
Girardi did not want to remove his starter, and this early in the season there was no need to keep Pineda in the game as his team with home runs from Aaron Judge, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro built a lead.
Yes, the 28 -year old native of Yaguate Dominican Republic, who also had 11 strikeouts for the second time in his career, may have finally arrived for manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees. And on Opening Day, and as they say, “you can’t beat that.”
But will Pineda be consistent and come back strong in his next start? That is the question, but who cares because this was an Opening Day that was memorable and could prove to be beneficial for the Yankees in the long run.
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