Yanks give tip of 'cap' for Pineda's fine outing

Yanks give tip of 'cap' for Pineda's fine outing

TAMPA, Fla. -- Gary Sanchez hovered near the clubhouse television as Michael Pineda conducted a post-start interview on Wednesday evening, and the Yankees catcher smirked while using his cellphone to record the moment for posterity.

Pineda had grabbed the wrong Spring Training cap in his haste to be camera-ready, a move that the batterymates shared a laugh about later. It seemed to be the only mistake Pineda made as he hurled five perfect innings in the Yankees' 3-1 win over the Phillies in Grapefruit League action.

"He's had better games, but in this Spring Training, I would say this the best I've seen him," Sanchez said through an interpreter.

Sanchez said that Pineda seemed to be more effective with his changeup. When the stuff cooperates, Pineda's fastball pops, his slider darts and that changeup dives, making it easy for the Yankees to dream about what the right-hander could mean for their rotation.

"I'm working hard to be prepared for the season," Pineda said. "I want to have a great season every year and I'm working hard to have a great season."

Pineda struck out eight, throwing 37 of 53 pitches for strikes, making it look so simple that the Yankees sent him back out for an extra three outs just so he could approach his allotted pitch count.

"Everything was good. Fastball command was really good, the slider was really good, and he threw some good changeups," manager Joe Girardi said. "Originally, we were thinking four innings, but he threw so few pitches. He could go up to 60 and he still didn't get there. That's as good as he could throw."

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has spent a good portion of the spring drumming the word "focus" into Pineda's thinking, urging him to finish strong and not ease up in situations where there are two strikes or two outs.

"We really believe in Michael," Girardi said. "I just think last year, some of it was he couldn't finish innings and he had some bad luck at times. I think this guy is really big for us this year. Really big."

They've seen glimpses of what he can be when everything clicks -- Pineda struck out 12 last June 30 vs. Texas, and 11 last Sept. 20 vs. Tampa Bay, though his career high is 16 on Mother's Day 2015 vs. the Orioles.

Figuring out how to keep the command of that three-pitch mix on display could make all the difference for Pineda.

"I've had great games in the past," Pineda said. "I'm always trying to be better and better."

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.