A small scare went up last night after Michael Pineda was removed from his latest Triple-A start after just 3 innings. They were 3 solid innings, with no runs allowed, 3 hits, and 3 strikeouts, and his pitch count was only at 39. After stating that they wanted to give him more time to stretch out his pitch count, Pineda was done after not even half of that count. Not a good look. Any possibility of an injury was quickly shot down by Brian Cashman's explanation that "innings management" was the reason for the early exit.
Of course. After saying for over a month that I expected Pineda to come back (when he was fully ready) and be immediately inserted into the rotation, I never once considered the possibility of the Yankees actually taking the cautious approach I suggested way back in September of last year. It's become the new flavor of the month branch-off of the modern "limiting the workload of young pitchers" school of thought, and looking at Pineda and his situation with the Yankees from 30,000 feet, it actually makes a lot of sense.
I figured with Pineda not getting back to Major League-ready by late summer there would be little need to count innings until he started pitching in Major League games again. Guess Cash and the owners don't want to take any chances of over-working the arm of a kid who went from 47.1 innings in 2009 with elbow problems to 171 in 2011 to 0 last year.
Pineda, still just 24 years old and not turning 25 until next January, has pitched a total of 34.2 innings in 8 MiL starts this season. He's pitched them with reported good velocity and movement on his slider and he's made only 1 start of more than 80 pitches. The path already taken with Pineda's rehab has been a slow, careful one, for which the Yankees should be commended and from which it appears they've gotten a healthy Pineda back. Factoring in all the previous bullpen sessions and sim game appearances earlier in the year, Pineda's total innings count is probably at least double his actual, so he's sitting somewhere around 70 total IP for the calendar year.
There are still 2 months and change left for him to pitch this season, which should put him on schedule for at least 100 total innings on his arm. Using that as a nice even starting point, what's the target innings total for the Yankees if they are going to take a cautious approach to managing them? And does that mean him getting stretched out to a full starter's pitch count is off the table? Is Pineda even going to get called up at this point? Are the Yankees going to use him as a reliever? How does all of this affect the plans for him next year? A lot more questions come with this development now that Cash has shown his hand.
It is hard to argue with the logic though. Part of maximizing the value of that trade after the injury was making sure Pineda was physically up to snuff and able to give the team the most out of the years they controlled him. They're in the process of regaining that lost year now, so if the plan is to bring Pineda along slowly for the rest of this year and get him back to rotation-ready for 2014, that's a plan I can live with. Still bothers me that I didn't consider this possibility a month ago. It was right in front of me the whole time.