Comfort with changeup moves Michael Pineda closer to Mariners' rotation
Mariners' young power pitcher, Michael Pineda, throws 10 change-ups on Monday, a key to getting out left-handed hitters.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Odd that some of the worst spring-training weather seen yet would still find Michael Pineda in a comfort zone.
Not simply because the Mariners' pitching prospect cheerfully likened the low-60s, rainy, windy Monday morning to a good practice run for weather he'll likely see in Seattle this April. More because he seems to be gaining comfort and consistency with the changeup he's going to need when facing left-handed hitters.
Pineda estimated that he threw roughly 10 changeups among his 72 total pitches over five innings of a minor-league game here against the Class AAA Omaha Storm Chasers. The Mariners moved Pineda to that morning game instead of having him throw in an afternoon Cactus League affair against the Cincinnati Reds, which wound up being canceled due to rain.
"My changeup's better than last year," said Pineda, 22, hit fairly hard by left-handers in AAA last season. "Last year, my changeup was a little fast. The speed was 89, or 90-something. Now, it's 88 or 87 with different movement."
Pineda wants the changeup breaking down and a bit away on lefties so they can't square up and pull it deep. But keeping the changeup's velocity lower — by reducing his arm action ever so slightly — will also enable him to have a 9 or 10 mph differential from his fastball.
That keeps hitters from sitting on a pitcher's fastball and then making a split-second timing shift in their swing to adjust to the changeup. Ideally, pitchers like to get at least a 10 mph differential between the pitches.
But Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis believes that because Pineda regularly throws his fastball 97 mph, he won't need as much differential with his changeup. A hitter's timing is already thrown off a bit by having to swing harder than usual to catch up to a fastball in the upper 90s, the thinking goes.
The Mariners will get an early read on how big-league ready Pineda is by how he fares against lefties. Pineda is feeling very good about his other secondary pitch — the slider — these days, but it's more effective against right-handed hitters.
Lefties continue to be Pineda's remaining soft spot.
Against Omaha, the AAA affiliate for the Kansas City Royals, Pineda allowed two of his three hits against southpaw swingers — an RBI single and a double lined the opposite way to left field. But he also struck out a left-handed hitter and got lefty Eric Hosmer, the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2008, to roll over on a pitch for a double-play grounder.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said afterward that he was merely glad Pineda got his work in, given the rainout. The Mariners seem determined to open the season with Pineda in the starting rotation and he is on schedule to make his major-league debut in Texas behind expected No. 4 starter Erik Bedard.
David Pauley, who will land a long reliever's job, was slated to start Monday's rained-out game. Pauley instead threw a bullpen session later in the day.
Luke French is the lone starter still in the running for a rotation spot once the season opens. That's why each Pineda start is being carefully monitored for signs that the pitcher can deliver the changeup with confidence and consistency.
That he threw it 10 times over five innings — an improvement over the six in four innings in a game last week — will be seen as a positive. Pineda says he feels ready to start the season and that his 72 pitches Monday were just a warm-up act.
"I'm ready to throw more pitches," he said. "Last year, I threw 100 pitches, 105. That's pretty good. I'm ready to throw 100 or 110 pitches in a game."
Pineda might need that many just to get through five innings if his changeup isn't up to snuff. But for now, the Mariners seem convinced that this work-in-progress is good enough to get by on.
• LHP Aaron Laffey continued to push for a spot in Seattle's bullpen, tossing three scoreless innings of one-hit ball against Kansas City's AA affiliate. Laffey struck out the side in his first inning, finishing with four strikeouts, and didn't walk anyone. He threw just 21 pitches.
Laffey's status on the 40-man roster should help him land a major-league job, even though he still has minor-league options left. The Mariners may have to add as many as five nonroster players by opening day and can't afford many more.
• Josh Lueke, also making a strong push to make the team, allowed a pair of two-out singles to the same AA opponent, but got through his lone inning. Lueke struck out the final batter he faced, showing excellent movement on his pitches.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.