Pineda finds form on strength of slider

Yankees righty bounces back vs. Royals following two tough starts

Pineda finds form on strength of slider

NEW YORK -- Michael Pineda knew he could do better.

It's been just over two weeks since the right-hander struck out 16 Orioles in one of the most dominating performances in franchise history, barely two weeks since Pineda was being called the ace that the Yankees needed.

There was no doubt Pineda could do better -- a lot better -- than he had in back-to-back losses to the Royals and Rangers. He just needed to get his slider back. It came back Wednesday, and Pineda came back, too. He wasn't 16-strikeout dominant, but he was plenty good in a 4-2 win over the Royals that completed a three-game sweep.

"I feel happy today," said Pineda, who gave up a Mike Moustakas home run in the first but no other runs in 6 2/3 innings. "My last two starts were not great. Today, I threw the ball good."

He had worked between starts on keeping his slider down and on slowing himself down.

"When my mechanics get too quick, my slider's no good," he said.

The Moustakas home run came on a slider that wasn't good enough. The sliders he used for the last three of his eight strikeouts were outstanding.

Moustakas' solo shot

According to brooksbaseball.net, Pineda threw 34 sliders Wednesday, and the Royals swung through seven of them. Last Friday against the Rangers, Pineda also threw 34 sliders, but he got only three swings and misses.

"You could see the difference," catcher Brian McCann said. "There was more tilt. Today was as good as it gets. That's about as well as you can pitch."

"When I have my slider, it's tough for the hitters," Pineda said.

The win was Pineda's sixth in eight decisions, already more wins than he had in his injury-shortened 2014 season.

Pineda's 64 1/3 innings are somewhat of a concern to the Yankees, because he only threw 76 1/3 big league innings last season and has missed so much time in his career with injuries. Yankees manager Joe Girardi cited the rising innings total in explaining why he chose to pull Pineda after the righty struck out Paulo Orlando for the second out in the seventh.

Pineda had thrown 106 pitches at that point, more than he had thrown in any 2015 start other than the 16-strikeout game, when he threw 111. Pineda accepted Girardi's decision, although he said he always wants to pitch more.

After all the time he's missed, he's happy to be pitching at all, happy to be pitching well. And after two starts in which he wasn't at his best, he was happy to prove again that he can do better.

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