Taking more calm approach, Yankees starter relies on pitch to escape jams
By Nick Suss
NEW YORK -- Michael Pineda has a bit of a reputation for talking to himself when he's on the mound.
So when Pineda found himself in a bases-loaded jam with a one-run lead and one out in the fourth inning of the Yankees' 5-0 win over the Orioles on Wednesday night, it should come as no surprise that he resorted to his old habit. But unlike in the past, when he's yelled at himself or thrown verbal jabs to challenge himself, Pineda took a soothing approach.
"Just let it go," Pineda said he told himself. "Just let it go. Keep fighting on the mound."
Apparently, Pineda responds better to positive reinforcement, as the big right-hander struck out the next two batters, Nolan Reimold and Ryan Flaherty, preserving a lead that his offense later expanded upon. Pineda thrived in the difficult situations all night, stranding four runners in scoring position over his six innings, ending each situation with a swinging strikeout.
"Those are the most crucial pitches in a game," manager Joe Girardi said. "When you can get outs with runners in scoring position, those are the most crucial outs in a game. And that's usually the difference in a game."
Wednesday night, those pitches were indeed crucial -- and when Pineda needed to go to a pitch to get out of a jam, he almost always went to his slider.
Pineda joked about his slider after the game, simply responding, "It was pretty good." But to catcher Brian McCann -- and the Orioles' lineup -- that slider was no laughing matter.
McCann described the pitch as sharper than usual, and with that sharpness Pineda was able to throw it for strikes at a much more consistent rate. And when Pineda can locate both his fastball and his slider, the punchouts pile up.
Nowhere was this more evident than that fourth inning. On both of the bases-loaded strikeouts, as well as the strikeout of Pedro Alvarez two batters earlier with runners on first and second, Pineda pounded the zone with sliders, throwing the pitch 10 out of 14 times, including all three of the strikeouts. Of Pineda's eight strikeouts, six of them came courtesy of the breaking ball.
The win was Pineda's first since June 7, though his ERA (5.25) has dropped almost a full point since then. But for the Yankees, it was their fourth straight win, and all four were won by the starter.
That fact wasn't lost on Pineda.
"It's really good energy for everybody, especially the starting pitchers," Pineda said. "We try to take the day and pitch a good game and stay in the game longer to give the opportunity for the three big men we have in the bullpen. This is good."
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.