Did Michael Pineda hurt his shoulder trying to generate velocity in an effort to quell the furor building over his lower radar gun readings? Or, was pre-existing soreness the cause of his diminished velocity? At this point, it really doesn’t matter. The Yankees chief concern is now the result of Pineda’s MRI.
If the test on the young right hander’s shoulder comes back clean, the Yankees can wipe their brow and then get to work trying to figure out why Pineda has been unable to generate the same velocity. After all, if the soreness was merely the result of a concerted effort to throw harder, there’s no guarantee the same effect won’t occur again the next time he tries to dial it up. Therefore, even if Pineda’s MRI shows now structural damage, the Yankees best course of action would be to leave the right hander back in Florida so the organization’s pitching gurus can iron out the flaws in his mechanics. That’s the best case scenario.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, the worst case is also possible. Shoulder soreness are two of the most unpleasant words to use when talking about a pitcher, so Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ brain trust will be on high alert until the results are in. If the doctors find a significant structural issue and surgery is needed, the recriminations will be coming fast and furious. Did Brian Cashman perform the proper due diligence? Was the injury a result of Pineda showing up to camp overweight? Should the Yankees have been monitoring his offseason work regimen? Did Joe Girardi push him too hard by insisting upon an open competition? Or, did Pineda just get caught up in the exaggerated media concern about his fastball? Clearly, there will be plenty of blame to go around.
Hindsight usually has the clearest vision, so playing the blame game rings hollow. However, in this case, the Yankees did have a giant red flag waiving in their face. While many in the blogosphere were counteracting the mass media hysteria with indignant indifference, I was initially concerned by Pineda’s lack of velocity. Back on March 6, my advice to the Yankees was “until Pineda’s weight and velocity readings are in line with expectations, the [team] would be wise to scrutinize everything about the young right hander.” At this point, it isn’t clear whether they took such precaution.
Any time a pitcher talks about his shoulder I have concern. His velocity is down, so you put those two together and it obviously causes that level of concern. … We’ve asked him all spring, and he’s said he’s been fine. But it’s not like I sat him down now, stuck a light in his face and said, ‘Tell me now, in the last five weeks (has the shoulder hurt)?’ I don’t know.” – Brian Cashman, quoted by LoHud Yankees blog, March 30, 2012
The Yankees’ GM isn’t the only who seems to be second guessing himself a little. In a post game comment, Girardi suggested that the Spring Training competition may have pushed Pineda to over-exert himself. The Yankees’ manager also acknowledged that Pineda may have gotten caught up in the media hype, which may have had the same result.
Sometimes that can be the danger if you have competition. Maybe someone doesn’t say something and there’s something bothering him a little bit.” – Joe Girardi, quoted by the NY Times, March 30, 2010
Whatever the motivation, the idea that Pineda was “trying to do too much” in last night’s exhibition game seems credible. During the YES broadcast, David Cone noticed that the young right hander was “getting around the baseball”, which was causing the ball to cut. Of course, if Cone recognized the flaw so early in the game, why didn’t the Yankees’ coaches? Would it have mattered? Who knows, but that’s just another second guess you can throw into the pile.
Even though the Yankees’ could have been more pro-active with Pineda this spring (assuming they weren’t behind the scenes), if the big right hander is seriously injured, it would be foolish to place too much blame, or any at all, on Cashman and Girardi. Most of the questions raised above are not so much the result of negligence, but just part of the inherent risk that comes with young pitchers.
If there’s a second guess that’s legitimate, it’s whether the Yankees should have traded the relative security of a hitting prospect for the volatility of a pitcher. However, at the time of the trade, the Yankees desperately needed pitching and Pineda seemed to be a long-term solution to that problem. And you know what? He still may be. As Brian Cashman stated at the time, Pineda’s acquisition had long-term implications, and that still applies today, regardless of the outcome of his MRI. However, going forward, the Yankees would be wise to shine a light on every aspect of his development because the reality of young pitching is there’s always something lurking in the shadows.