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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Girardi takes Pineda under his wing

Instead of focusing on negative, Yankees manager looks at bigger picture

Girardi takes Pineda under his wing play video for Girardi takes Pineda under his wing

BOSTON -- Once things had calmed down, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did something absolutely brilliant. He summoned pitcher Michael Pineda to a private place up the tunnel from the visitors' dugout at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.

"Michael, this is a little bump in the road," Girardi told him. "We'll get through this. You'll be back pitching before you know it."

If someone ever wants to debate Girardi's genius as a big league manager -- and there shouldn't be much -- this brief moment would be a good place to start. At a time when he could have reacted a dozen different ways to what Pineda did on Wednesday night, Girardi focused on the big picture.

Girardi did something that attempted to protect the best interests of the Yankees as an organization and all those players he's committed to winning with.

That's where it begins.

Yes, the bottom line.

The Yankees desperately need Pineda to pitch at a high level if they're going to make the postseason. They've got an assortment of moving parts as they try to figure out what they can expect from CC Sabathia, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and others.

If you look at the Yankees a certain way, you can see them rolling right through this season and playing October baseball. You can also see them coming undone as age and health issues finally catch up to them.

Girardi simply was doing the right thing for his team. The Yankees have invested two years in trying to resurrect Pineda's career in the wake of a right shoulder injury that had plenty of people thinking he'd never throw another pitch in the big leagues.

Pineda has made it all the way back and had pitched well this month. But the Yankees still have no idea what kind of career he's going to have and whether the shoulder will hold up. He was once seen as a 200-inning, 200-strikeout top-of-the-rotation workhorse.

That was before surgery left him with diminished velocity and confidence. If the Yankees don't know what Pineda can be, it's probably a good bet Pineda doesn't know, either.

Can you imagine his doubts? His fears? He's 25 years old. He has dreams.

Girardi also knew what the reaction to Pineda's ridiculously dumb move would be. He saw the firestorm coming. Pineda is going to deserve everything he gets because what he did almost defies logic.

So the tabloids and talk shows are going to make sure Michael Pineda has the full New York experience. He's likely going to be suspended by Major League Baseball, too, and there's not a thing he can do except attempt to learn from it.

So that's where Girardi was Wednesday night when Pineda made the inexcusable decision to walk to the mound in the second inning with a glob of pine tar on the right side of his neck.

At least no one can accuse him of attempting to hide anything. He couldn't have been more obvious if he'd gone to the mound with a sandwich board announcing, "Check me for pine tar."

The Red Sox had looked the other way two weeks ago when Pineda pitched a game against them at Yankee Stadium with a large, noticeable swatch of pine tar on his hand for an inning.

Red Sox players said they understood he wasn't trying to cheat. That is, it wasn't like he was scuffing the ball or loading it up with Vaseline. Rather than trying to do something to cause increased movement on the baseball, Pineda almost certainly was using pine tar to allow him to get a better grip on the ball on a blustery night.

Some of the Red Sox saw it as a safety issue. When a guy is throwing a 95-mph fastball, they would rather he's able to grip -- and thus control -- the baseball. That he would put pine tar in an even more visible place on Wednesday, that he would do it against the same team that looked the other way two weeks ago, was as baffling as him actually doing it.

Strip everything away, and this simply is a scared kid, a kid still recovering from shoulder surgery, a kid who just didn't think things through. Pineda was warned not to do it again, but who knows if he really understood? He speaks only limited English, and when confronted by a battery of reporters after Wednesday's game, he had a deer-in-the-headlights look. Pineda spoke quietly and briefly, saying he couldn't grip the ball and that he'd apologized to the Yankees.

The Red Sox had banged him around for two runs in the bottom of the first inning, and Pineda apparently disappeared into the clubhouse between innings. When he returned he had the pine tar on his neck.

Red Sox manager John Farrell, seeing a violation so obvious as well as a chance to chew up the Yankees bullpen, asked that Pineda be checked.

It took home-plate umpire Gerry Davis about 20 seconds to find the pine tar and eject Pineda. Now the Yankees are in scramble mode regarding their pitching.

And there are the larger issues. Girardi said it was "a mistake in judgment" and that Pineda now fully understood and would learn from it. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman used the word "embarrassed" more than once in speaking to reporters.

As for Pineda, who knows? It's unlikely he'll ever use pine tar again. Now he must deal with the thunder-and-lightning reaction. Girardi is the right man to lead him back. He began that process almost immediately.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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