Speculation is the fuel that stokes the Hot Stove fires. As the fires of speculation simmer in Met land, sometimes during the off-season it’s easy for Met fans to forget there’s another major league baseball team sharing NYC with pinstriped baseball fans surmising what baseball in 2014 will look like in the Bronx.
Recently, those predictions have seen the name of Yankee prospect Michael Pineda reemerge on the pages of the NYC dailies or on baseball blogs. With the Yankees shedding big bucks to bring in position playing upgrades that include Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, attention has turned to Yankee pitching. That’s when Pineda’s name resurfaced.
In a conversation with the Star Ledger, Yankee minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson indicated Pineda should be ready to make a case for a spot in the Yankees 2014 starting rotation. Paterson feels Pineda has completed his recovery from the torn labrum he suffered in 2012 and the former American League all-star can pitch again in the majors. “I was very happy with everything he did, so I certainly see him being able to do that,” Paterson told the Star Ledger.
After returning to the mound last summer, Pineda threw 10 games in the minors posting a 3.32 earned run average while striking out a batter in each of the 40.2 innings he threw. That output caught the attention of Yankee GM Brian Cashman who says Pineda will be given the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot in the spring.
All that Michael Pineda speculation leaves me smiling. You see, on a sunny day on the first day of July last summer, I sat behind home plate to watch Pineda pitch. The recovering Yankee was pitching for Trenton’s Double-A Thunder. The game was Pineda’s second starting assignment for the Thunder with optimism running high for Yankee fans after the big righthander threw six shutout innings in his first start for Trenton.
On the mound for the Binghamton Mets was none other than Noah Syndergaard making this pitching showdown between the top starting prospects of each of New York’s major league franchises a must see Sunday afternoon baseball treat.
Things got off to a shaky start for B-Met fans when Trenton left fielder Ramon Flores lifted a Syndergaard fastball over the left field wall for a lead-off homerun. But, the unflappable Syndergaard settled in nicely to turn in a dazzling effort on the hill.
The B-Mets more than made up the difference of the Flores shot in their half of the first. With one man out and a runner on base, Cesar Puello stepped to the plate waving his bat in the air. Puello muscled a long homerun to put Binghamton on top, 2-1.
But, it was the pitcher’s I had really come to see. Both young hurlers make imposing figures on the pitching mound. Pineda is a giant standing 6’7” tall and weighing a beefy 260 pounds. And, Syndergaard is no slouch giving up only one inch and 20 pounds to the Yankee prospect. Sitting directly behind home plate I got the full effect of what it feels like to have these baseball giants falling forward off the mound and firing bullets.
Pineda, with a fastball a few ticks lower on the radar than the mid to high range 90’s he fired before his injury, struggled with command. The Trenton behemoth was all over the lot. He simply couldn’t find the strike zone. A frustrated Pineda lasted only three innings, surrendering a second gopher ball to B-Met Richard Lucas and surrendering 4 hits and 4 earned runs.
But, it was Pineda’s lack of control that had to be disheartening to Yankee fans. The big righty walked four batters and hit one. Pineda faced 17 hitters in his 3 innings of work throwing 67 pitches with more balls (35) than strikes (32).
In contrast, after the Flores lead-off homer, Syndergaard shined. Thor was overpowering over five innings chalking up nine strikeouts, a season high at that point of Thor’s 2013 campaign.
Syndergaard walked only 2 of the 22 batters he faced and allowed four hits, two of the infield variety. In fact, back-to-back infield singles, compounded by a Syndergaard throwing error left Trenton runners on second and third with no one out in the visitor’s third. Thor worked out of the jam without surrendering a run.
The future Met fireballer threw 93 pitches, his final pitch a 98 m.p.h. fastball for his ninth K. Syndergaard threw 67 strikes with only 26 offerings out of the zone.
Syndergaard left the game with a 4-1 lead, but Trenton rallied to tie the game with three runs in the top of the sixth off the B-Met bullpen. Binghamton would eventually secure a 5-4 victory.
I treated my brother, a huge Yankee fan to the game, and he came away shaking his head in awe at Syndergaard. The previous season, we saw a Zack Wheeler start against Trenton on me, a game where Wheeler, like Syndergaard, yielded a first inning long ball, and was then, pretty much, not hittable. Needless to say, my Yankee loving brother thinks the Mets have the making of a pretty decent rotation in the years to come. On that point, two baseball loving brothers can agree.