Pineda remains enigma over last month

Yankees righty mixes in strong starts with clunkers, like the eight runs he allowed Monday

Pineda remains enigma over last month

NEW YORK -- Through the seven starts that have followed an electric 16-strikeout performance on Mother's Day, the Yankees have seen the good and the bad of what Michael Pineda has to offer, an inconsistent run that continued Monday with a fourth-inning exit.

Pineda's flat slider turned him into easy pickings for the offensively challenged Phillies, who hung an eight-spot on the right-hander, as he was belted for career highs in runs (eight) and hits allowed (11) in an 11-8 loss on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

"It's nothing different. I feel very strong today," Pineda said. "I feel like I have the power today. But it's not good enough."

Pineda's May 10 effort against the Orioles offered a tantalizing taste of the ace-caliber hurler that the Yanks have spent years dreaming of, but there has been speculation that those 111 pitches might have sapped something from his tank. Since then, Pineda is 3-4 with a 6.10 ERA (26 earned runs in 38 1/3 innings).

"It's hard to tell. His last time out, he was as good as he was probably at any time," Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "I don't know that we can have the answer to that. I don't think that's the case, but there's no way to know if it is or isn't."

When Pineda is sharp, as he was in carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Marlins on Wednesday, there are no complaints. Then there have been the clunkers, permitting five earned runs to both Kansas City (May 15) and Baltimore (June 12) before Philadelphia took advantage on Tuesday.

Perhaps most alarmingly, Pineda was unable to put hitters away in two-strike counts on Monday. The only other time he has failed to register even one strikeout was his pine tar game in Boston last April, when he was ejected in the second inning.

"That just tells me that he didn't have his good slider," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's been kind of up and down, and that's hard to figure out. Sometimes they just go through stretches like that, the starters, and then they'll reel off six or seven good ones in a row.

"You've got to make pitches every time you go out. That's the bottom line. Tonight he just didn't."

Mixed in during that span was the Yankees' decision to push one of Pineda's starts back, offering him 10 days' rest before his June 12 start as a nod to his climbing innings count; Pineda has never exceeded 200 innings in a season. The righty said that the layoff made no difference to him.

"Nothing changed because you have an extra day," Pineda said. "Whatever it is the routine you have, you continue to follow the routine."

Yet two of the three outings that followed have been rough. Rothschild said that the Yankees cannot have regrets about how they handled that situation, believing that Pineda's health is the paramount concern.

"Obviously hindsight is real good, but I think the first thing you have to do is ensure his health; otherwise nothing else matters," Rothschild said. "You look at it that we need him healthy the whole year. I think if we have him healthy the whole year, you'll see him pitch well. It's not an easy thing to juggle it around."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.