Pineda changes up mix in rematch with Twins

Righty relies on offspeed in 2nd straight start vs. Minnesota

Pineda changes up mix in rematch with Twins

NEW YORK -- Michael Pineda's 2016 season has been an analyst's nightmare.

As he showed Saturday afternoon in the Yankees' 2-1 win over the Twins, his good days are as good as anyone's in the rotation. Pineda struck out eight batters in six innings, allowing just two hits and one run on a second-inning home run. It was the fifth straight start that Pineda has allowed three or fewer earned runs, a streak that has lowered Pineda's ERA on the season by more than a point.

Even with the hefty ERA drop in June, Pineda is still sporting a 5.51 mark, largely due to his four starts where he has allowed six or more earned runs in an outing, none of which lasted into the seventh inning.

Annoyingly for Pineda and prognosticators alike, the starts themselves aren't the only contradictory elements in the right-hander's game.

On the good side, he owns a top three strikeout-per-nine rate in the American League and has been a beacon of bad luck, holding the Majors' highest BABIP against, both of which serve as strong predictors of future success.

On the bad side, though, Pineda ranks in the bottom 15 in MLB in home-run-per-fly-ball rate and left-on-base rate.

That said, Pineda's numbers don't exactly tell the whole story. Take Saturday, for example.

It was Pineda's second straight start against the Twins, and in his last outing -- a no-decision where he allowed three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings -- he pounded the zone with sliders, using the breaking ball on nearly 40 percent of his pitches. Saturday, he had to adjust in strategy, and as a result relied on his third-best pitch, the changeup, to get outs. It worked.

"That helped me a lot, because my last start was versus this team," Pineda said. "I threw a lot of sliders. Today, they were looking for my slider. So I threw more changeups today, and they helped me pitch better."

As much as the variety might've helped Pineda settle in as a pitcher, the slider was still his out pitch. Ten of the 18 outs Pineda recorded came with the darting, downward-moving slider.

Catcher Brian McCann explained that this pitch is pivotal to Pineda's results. When the slider is snapping, especially when he's able to bury it beneath the corner of the plate and induce whiffs, Pineda turns into a strikeout machine.

"The key for him is when he puts that slider in the dirt, he gets a lot of punchouts," McCann said. "When he's getting on top of it and he's getting those swings, the hitter becomes passive, and everything else plays up."

The stats back up that assertion. In games where opponents are taking their most swings at his slider, they also tend to have higher swing rates against all of his pitches. That was on display Saturday, when seven of his eight strikeouts were of the swinging variety.

But though his output might be unpredictable, his input is going to stay the same, and that's what Pineda said he thinks will lead to him growing more consistent.

"[I] just [need to] continue working and keeping my head ready for pitching every five days, working hard every day and in the bullpen, and have fun in the game," Pineda said.

Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.