I Like Pineda Already + Bye, Bye Scutero

January 22nd, 2012 by Jane Heller

I’m sure a lot of people have already seen this Daily News story on the newest Yankees starter, but I thought I’d post it anyway. What do I like about Pineda after reading it? I like that he’s excited about coming to New York (who wouldn’t be), that he’s excited about playing along side A-Rod, Jeter, Mo, Cano and the rest of the team (who wouldn’t be), that he wants to improve his English (it’ll make his post-game press conferences more interesting), that he said he just needs to keep the ball low (I hope Phil Hughes is listening), and that he’s large (somehow I’d forgotten that he’s 6’7″ and will intimidate hitters if nothing else). Mostly, he just seems like a decent kid. Here’s the article.

Michael Pineda, newest NY Yankees pitcher, ready to prove himself on the Yankee Stadium stage

BY CHRISTIAN RED / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Published: Saturday, January 21 2012, 1:55 PM

YAGUATE, Dominican Republic — The derelict factory sits off in the distance, beyond a sea of sugar cane fields, a once-teeming sugar mill that thrived on the abundance of product available all throughout the tiny “barrio,” or neighborhood, called “Pajarito” (“little bird.”)

At dusk, women are walking up a pockmarked road off the main highway, some chewing on the cane they’ve cut earlier in the day. Sugar cane is still gathered by the truckload here, but shipped elsewhere for processing. Still, the workers, men and women, are smiling and laughing at the end of the work day. The music of Jennifer Lopez blares out of a car near a roadside fruit stand. Thunder clouds gather and disperse, gather and disperse, the sun peeking through every so often.

Down Pajarito’s “main” road — an unforgiving surface bordered by tiny houses on one side and a sugar-cane field on the other — a Chevrolet Yukon SUV with Washington state plates idles by the side of the road. In the driver’s seat, a Yankees cap snug on his head, sits Juan Francisco Pineda, his white teeth framing a wide smile. Pineda’s oldest son, Michael, turns 23 on this day. But aside from the birthday celebration that will take place later in the evening — when Michael Pineda will be joined by his parents, two younger brothers, younger sister and dozens of childhood friends for the festive occasion — there is another big reason why the elder Pineda is happy.

On Friday the 13th, a dormant Yankees winter detonated in one fell swoop, with Bombers general manager Brian Cashman unloading blue-chip prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle along with pitcher Hector Noesi in a trade for Pineda, a hard-throwing Dominican righthander, and minor-league righty Jose Campos. The grumbling among Yankee fans about the paucity of hot stove activity this winter, especially the need to address a rotation that becomes shaky after ace CC Sabathia, had been steadily growing. With Pineda, who had a respectable rookie season (9-10, 3.74 ERA) despite a second-half dip, the Yankees picked up a “tremendous arm,” in the words of Patrick Guerrero, Seattle’s head of Dominican scouting operations and the man who signed Pineda as an amateur free agent in 2005.

For Pineda, who is an imposing 6-7 and who can fire mid-90s heat, the change of address came as a shock (the deal will be officially finalized when the players pass their physicals and when visa paperwork is completed). But once the news sank in, Pineda started to envision the galaxy of stars that will play behind him.

“It’s a tremendous team, with good pitching. It’s very exciting for me — for the first time in my life, I’ll have the pleasure of playing with Alex Rodriguez, a huge star, and Derek Jeter, one of the most well-known players ever. And Mariano Rivera, (Robinson) Cano, (Mark) Teixeira, Rafael Soriano,” Pineda says in Spanish, his voice trailing off as he sifts through the Yankees’ roster. “I never thought in my life that I would be in this situation.”

Pineda’s father, however, is keenly aware of the bigger draw for a player who slips on the pinstripes.

“The Yankees, they are known for making the playoffs almost every year,” the elder Pineda says. “I guess, maybe, they were looking for some more pitching. But hopefully (Michael) can help win some more rings.”

***

The tiny baseball diamond — the uneven terrain abuts a sugar cane crop, spare tires mark the outfield wall and the occasional cow grazes in left field — sits in the shadow of the closed sugar plant.

A chain-link backstop and rusted iron links are planted in the ground behind home plate. An enormous, black female pig rummages in a ditch nearby. Roosters crow. A crater marks the spot for the pitcher’s mound.

This is the swatch of land where Pineda learned to play baseball, and where he still comes regularly to run, long toss and work on his agility. Most major leaguers who make it to the Big Show would probably be inclined to leave the hardscrabble fields of their youth behind. Not Pineda.

The dozen baseball prospects from surrounding San Cristobal who gather on this diamond to train and keep in shape during the winter — including Pineda’s 18-year-old brother, Michelle, an aspiring righthander — talk about Pineda as an humble local who has stayed true to his roots.

“He made it all the way to the big leagues and he’s the same person, no big head or ego,” says 17-year-old Marion Corporan in Spanish. “Drives the same car, always friendly.”

But if there is ever a cauldron that will test the mental strength and resolve of an athlete, New York is that place. There is a lengthy list of athletes who have arrived in the Big Apple with big expectations, only to wilt spectacularly under pressure and the intense media scrutiny. The fans demand the best. Yankee fans expect championships. It is not a sports stage for the meek — just ask Javier Vazquez, Chuck Knoblauch or more recently, A.J. Burnett.

Pineda is not worried, and neither is his family nor are his baseball mentors.

“I’m not scared. I’m always focused, working very hard every day,” says Pineda, whose gold earring spelling his name sparkles in the late-evening sunlight. “I don’t think about anything else on game days. I’ve never pitched in New York or at Yankee Stadium, but I’m dying to. We’ll see what happens. I’m going to work very hard to do my job.”

Guerrero, who says Pineda started out playing shortstop before the Mariners converted him to a pitcher, is impressed with the righthander’s competitiveness on the mound, as well as his desire to improve his English-speaking skills.

“He likes to talk, and he’s learning how to speak English better,” Guerrero says. “I don’t think New York will be a problem. I think he’ll enjoy it because he likes competing. He doesn’t like to lose, so that may be the only thing — he’s very tough on himself.”

Pineda’s rookie season may have been a good lesson in balancing success with a bit of failure. After debuting April 5 and taking the loss against Texas — Pineda pitched six innings and gave up three runs on five hits — the righthander won seven of his next nine starts. But beginning in August, Pineda closed out his rookie year losing seven of 10. For all the hype about Pineda’s fastball and slider, Guerrero says the pitcher’s changeup still needs work.

In his lone outing against the Yankees May 27 at Safeco Field — what Pineda calls “a pretty good start” — he threw five innings and gave up three runs on three hits, including a Teixeira solo homer, in the 4-3 Mariners win.

“He has a decent curveball — a 12-to-6 curve that he converted to a slider,” Guerrero says. “I think the changeup will come with maturity. He did pretty good last year. It’s gonna come. He’s also not afraid to get a hitter off the plate. He’s tough.”

Pineda, however, says he feels “good about my changeup,” and that come spring training, “I’ll be ready to go.”

He’ll also be tested by the change in ballparks: He’s leaving spacious Safeco Field — a pitcher’s park — for the smaller Yankee Stadium dimensions, including the short right-field porch that lefty hitters such as Boston’s David Ortiz find so inviting.

“I’ll just keep it low,” says Pineda, switching to English briefly as he stands near the driveway of his home. “Keep it low and everything will be fine.”

Pineda was standing on that same driveway when he got a call from Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik with the news that he’d been traded to the Bronx.

“Right there, in front of my house,” Pineda says, laughing. “(Zduriencik) called me, and I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it.’ He said, ‘The Yankees called me 30 minutes ago.’ All I could think was, ‘Incredible.’ ”

Pineda has some bittersweet feelings about leaving Seattle, “my first family,” and is grateful to his Mariners teammates, along with the coaches, trainers and minor-league instructors who have helped him along in his brief professional career. He says he has learned from “El Rey Felix (Mariners ace RHP Felix Hernandez),” but is equally complimentary of (Mariners bullpen coach) Jaime Navarro, trainer Rick Griffin, and pitching coach Carl Willis.

The chance to contend for an American League East title, playoff victories and possibly the World Series can cure any sadness quickly, however, especially when you’re leaving a fourth-place team for one at the top of a division. “When he started playing professional ball, I told him, ‘Never forget, it’s a business,’” says Juan Francisco Pineda, who played third base when he was in the Dominican Navy. “Your team can change. This trade happened so fast.”

Whether Pineda will prove to be the perfect complement to Sabathia, or experience a sophomore slump in pinstripes remains to be seen. Across the country, Montero could be the “tremendous bat” — as Pineda says — that Seattle needs. Or he could fade into oblivion. “My job is to sign players. Of course I would like to see Michael pitch in Seattle, but the GM needed a good bat, and the Yankees needed a pitcher,” Guerrero says. “Was it a good trade? Time will tell. I think the Yankees got a tremendous arm and we got a great batter. You lose some and you win some. We will know in time.”

Just a quick word about the Red Sox trade of Marco Scutero to the Rockies. I applaud it. Not that Scutero was a particularly annoying Red Sock, but he always seemed to give Mo trouble (I’m still having flashbacks from when he was on the A’s). So I hope he enjoys the National League because I won’t miss him.

 

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14 Responses to “I Like Pineda Already + Bye, Bye Scutero”

  1. barbara says:

    i am watching football, hockey, basketball, everything but nothing makes my heart sing like the yankees. i am obsessed with the two new pitchers and keep trying to find people to talk to me about it. i was walking home from the gym in the snow thinking of how soon baseball will be here. at the gym the spin teacher started with the song with phil rizzuto in it and ended with empire state of mind because she knows it makes me smile. i also was thinking how much i hope pineda can be great. tall pitchers often take some time to develop and find their control. i’m hoping. spring training is just around the corner.

  2. Jane Heller says:

    I know what you mean about tall pitchers, Barbara, but control hasn’t really been Pineda’s issue yet so here’s hoping it won’t be. I wish I cared about football but I don’t, except to say I wish my friends who are Giants fans good luck tonight!

  3. Dan says:

    Have you watched the documentary “A Player to Be Named Later”? Scutoro is followed in his early years. It was a very good video.

  4. Jeff says:

    Pineda lines up to do well in the Bronx. If nothing else, at least his name isn’t AJ Burnett.

  5. John says:

    Pineda appears mature beyond his years. I am sure Robbie Cano will befriend him. I have a good feeling about him.

    46 days to Tampa for me.

    Go Patriots!

  6. Jane Heller says:

    I haven’t seen that documentary, Dan, but thanks for the heads up.

    True, Jeff, plus he’s young enough so that if he has any AJ tendencies the Yankees can fix them early!

    Go Patriots? Am I reading that correctly, John? How could you not be rooting for the Giants?

  7. John says:

    Thought that would surprise you. I like the Giants but I love the Patriots and have for many years.

    Actually there are many like me around here rooting for Pats and Yankees.

  8. Jane Heller says:

    It just seems wrong somehow, John, but I realize you’re not alone. I have Yankee fan friends who root for the Celtics too.

  9. Bob Cerv says:

    Here’s an interesting perspective:
    “…in a quick flurry of action…the Yankees landed Pineda and Kuroda…vastly improving their rotation and instantly becoming heavy favorites to repeat as AL East champions….
    “Pineda and Kuroda slot into the second and third spots in the Yankees rotation behind ace CC Sabathia. That pushes sophomore Ivan Nova…to the fourth spot, and sets up a three-way battle for the fifth spot among what had appeared to be the bulk of the Yankees rotation just hours earlier….given how much more productive New York’s lineup is than Tampa Bay’s, and how far behind those two teams the Red Sox are in terms of their rotation outlook…an outlook that got bleaker with Kuroda signing with their rival…the Yankees stack up as the clear favorite in the division.”
    – Cliff Corcoran, “Inside Baseball,” espn.com, 1/19/12

  10. Jane Heller says:

    It’s always preferable when the media predicts a good outcome for the Yanks, Dave, but as we know from their overheated pre-season praise for the Sox, anything can happen. I like our rotation a lot. Fingers crossed.

  11. Freya says:

    FYI – there is supposed to be a press conference tomorrow morning (Jan. 24, 11am) on the YES network. It is expected that Posada is going to announce his retirement.

  12. Freya says:

    Correction: according to the Yankees website it can be seen on Yankees.com and MLB.com. I’m not sure about YES. It’s 11am ET.

  13. Jane Heller says:

    Thanks for the heads up, Freya. I’m glad the web sites will have clips of the press conference since many of us don’t get YES programming.

  14. John says:

    Now that I’ve dried my eyes, Jorge, you’re class all the way.

    Where was Andy, he should have been there.

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