Pin-K-eda: Yankees' ace heats up with 16 K's

Righty improves to 5-0, lowers ERA to 2.72

Pin-K-eda: Yankees' ace heats up with 16 K's

NEW YORK -- Sometime around the fourth inning Sunday, Michael Pineda realized this could be a special day.

His strikeout total was building fast, with two in the first, three in the second, two in the third and two in the fourth.

"That's a lot of strikeouts," he said later. "I thought, 'It's going to be good.'"

It sure was.

Pineda's 16 strikeouts in seven innings of a 6-2 Yankees win over the Orioles equaled the most by a Yankees right-hander, and were two shy of tying Ron Guidry's club record. The 16 strikeouts also matched the most any Major League pitcher has had in a seven-inning outing.

"His stuff today was electric," Yankees catcher Brian McCann said. "Almost every time he takes the ball, it is."

The Yankees have known that since they made the big trade to get Pineda from the Mariners in January 2012. Pineda has always had electric stuff, but because of injuries and inconsistency, it hasn't translated into electric success -- at least not until now.

Sunday's win gave Pineda a 5-0 start to the season, and his 2.72 ERA and 54-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggest that he has taken over as the ace on a team for which CC Sabathia is struggling and Masahiro Tanaka is hurt.

He even looks like he's getting better, with a 1.27 ERA over his last four starts, with one walk and 34 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. Sunday's game, with no walks and just six hits to go with the 16 strikeouts, was his best yet.

Pineda, Beltran on win

"I mean, that's as good as we've seen," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "God, he was really good."

Pineda figured it might be a good day. He was happy to pitch on Mother's Day, and even more excited to take the mound on a day when the game-time temperature would be 78 degrees.

"Yeah, I'm happy [about the warm weather]," he said with a big grin. "I grew up in the Dominican [Republic]."

With the weather warming up, Pineda's velocity has returned to normal. According to brooksbaseball.net, his four-seam fastball Sunday averaged 93 mph and topped out at 95, higher than it was earlier in the season.

Pineda recorded eight of his strikeouts on fastballs, and the other eight on his nasty slider. He also made use of his changeup, which has become a more important pitch as Pineda has developed.

"When you can throw three pitches for strikes, it allows you to attack a hitter's weakness and stay unpredictable," McCann said.

Girardi pulled Pineda after seven because his pitch count had reached 111, the most pitches he has ever thrown in a Major League game. The manager said it was an easy call, especially considering Pineda's past injuries.

"If he doesn't have the injuries, maybe it's a different story," Girardi said.

Pineda, thrilled with the way the day went and the way the early part of the season has gone, wasn't complaining.

"When I finished seven, I knew I'd thrown a lot of pitches," he said. "I love pitching, but I don't have control of it. It's the manager's decision."

After all the time when he couldn't pitch, all the time rehabbing from injuries that cost him all of two seasons and part of last season, too, Pineda understandably preferred to focus on everything that is now going well.

"I'm throwing the ball really good," he said. "I want to keep it going, do a good job."

And, perhaps, have a few more special days like Sunday.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.