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The Strike Zone

New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda shines in first start since 2011

Michael PinedaMichael Pineda allowed just one run in six innings of work for the Yankees. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

It was more than two years ago that the Yankees acquired Michael Pineda for then-top prospect Jesus Montero. It's possible that after just one start, the Yankees are already the winners of that deal, despite falling to the Blue Jays 4-0.

When they made the trade, the Yankees certainly didn't envision Pineda making his team debut in 2014, but at least he did his part to make sure it was worth the wait. Taking the mound in a major league game for the first time since 2011 because multiple shoulder injuries that required surgery, Pineda allowed one run on five hits, striking out five in six innings in . His fastball sat in the mid-90s for most of the afternoon, and he touched 95 in the sixth inning. His breaking stuff looked sharp, and after a shaky opening frame, he commanded all his pitches. In short, he looked just like the potential ace the Yankees thought they were getting two years ago.

Pineda struggled a bit spotting his pitches early in the game. He left too many balls up, and gave up a ringing double to Adam Lind to start the second inning. Lind eventually scored on a single by Josh Thole, and he, too, might have scored had he not been erased attempting to steal. Ryan Goins followed with another double, but Pineda was able to get out of the inning by striking out Jonathan Diaz.

After that, Pineda settled in completely and shut down the Blue Jays. In the third, he got Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus to ground out, then finished off the inning by fanning Jose Bautista. In the fourth, Edwin Encarnacion fouled out to Francisco Cervelli, Lind grounded out to second and Brett Lawrie grounded out to short. He gave up his last hit of the day in the fifth, a double by Jonathan Diaz, but it came with two outs and no one on. He ended the inning by getting Cabrera to line out to left. His final inning of the day was clean and included a strikeout of Rasmus and popout by Encarnacion.

All told, Pineda picked up three of his five strikeouts, and induced five groundouts and two popouts in his final four innings. He went to just two two-ball counts, an encouraging sign after he struggled with his command earlier in the game. Not only was his velocity strong throughout, but he also threw 27 of his 33 sliders for strikes.

That the Yankees ultimately lost to the Blue Jays was not what really mattered for them on Saturday. If they're going to compete in the deep American League, they'll need Pineda to be the top-of-the-rotation guy he looked set to be after his impressive rookie season with the Mariners three years ago. Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka will likely need a third starter to step up alongside them in the rotation to keep the Yankees relevant all season. The smart money on that is not on CC Sabathia, who struggled mightily in his first start of the season. Pineda will almost certainly have to be that guy. After Saturday, the Yankees have to feel good about having him in that spot. And they have to be relieved to finally be realizing some return on their two-year-old investment.
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