Finishing off hitters, innings key for Pineda

Yankees right-hander struggled with two outs, two strikes last year

Finishing off hitters, innings key for Pineda

TAMPA, Fla. -- Michael Pineda beamed on Wednesday morning when he heard what Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia had said a day earlier, lauding the right-hander as having the potential to bring home hardware in any given season.

"Big Mike, I always come in to Spring Training and say this is the year he's going to win the Cy Young," Sabathia said. "He's just got so much talent and he just needs to put it all together, but he's right there."

"I started laughing because he's a great pitcher. He's a Cy Young pitcher," Pineda said of Sabathia, who won the award in 2007 with the Indians. "When you hear a pitcher like him say something like that, you feel good."

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Now comes the hard part, which is turning the words into on-field results. The Yankees have struggled to make sense of Pineda's 2016 season, in which he set career highs in innings (175 2/3), starts (32) and strikeouts (207), but also losses (12) and home runs allowed (27).

His resulting 6-12 record and 4.82 ERA dulled the shine of Pineda's American League-leading 10.61 strikeouts per nine innings.

"Some people are going to think it's a focus issue, some people are going to think that maybe it's bad luck," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's hard to look at Michael's numbers and understand how he was 6-12 with the ERA he had, when you look at the strikeouts and the command that he has. We scratch our heads sometimes with Michael."

Girardi said that the Yankees have stressed Pineda's need to finish innings. He permitted a .980 OPS with two outs last year, compared to .687 with none out and .663 with one out.

"We have our catchers remind him to finish innings, and that's always important," Girardi said. "Those two-out runs seem to be harder to recover from."

Pineda said that he spent part of the offseason reviewing video of his starts, and pounded a fist into his palm emphatically when discussing what he had seen. Thirteen of the home runs he allowed came with two outs, innings that he believed should have been over.

"Two strikes, whatever, I need to finish -- especially after two outs," Pineda said. "Last year, I had a lot of runs after two outs, two strikes. For me this year, that's my focus. We got two outs, two strikes, whatever, I've got to finish."

Even so, Pineda said there were positives to squeeze out of 2016 as he once again sets his goals at 200 innings and 200 strikeouts.

"For me, last year was really hard," Pineda said. "I had a good game, bad game. At the end of the year, when I look at my strikeouts, when I look at my innings, my starts, I said, 'You know what? This year was a really tough year for me, but I'm grinding on the mound every five days.' I'm happy. This is very important for me. Now I know I can make 32 starts, pitching all year with no injuries. I'm happy with that."

The promise of a big payday could boost Pineda to the next level. He is eligible for free agency after the season, and while he said that he would like to remain with the Yankees, Pineda said that he is not worrying about the future.

"I don't put that pressure in my head," Pineda said. "The only pressure I'm putting in my head is, I want to give the opportunity for my team to win games every five days. When the season is over and you look at your numbers, you feel good and you're proud of yourself."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.