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Hartnett: Pineda Carrying The 'Weight' Of Yankees' Rotation

'Hart of the Order'
By Sean Hartnett
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Michael Pineda will make his Yankees' spring debut at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater this afternoon. His likely two-inning appearance will not make or break his Yankee career but plenty of eyes will be studying Pineda closely.

Everyone knew the book on Pineda when the Yankees acquired him in mid-January. It's little secret that Pineda possesses 'top of the line' stuff that general managers salivate over. Brian Cashman was willing to pay a hefty price to land Pineda by giving up high-potential bat Jesus Montero and an arm whom the Yankees believed capable of breaking into a major league rotation in Hector Noesi.

While Pineda was an All-Star in his rookie year, that could be chalked up to unfamiliarity. American League batters began to figure out his electric fastball in the second half and Pineda's lack of a true arsenal got him into trouble following the All-Star break. Just take a glance at his 2011 splits:

Before the All-Star break: 8-6 record with a 3.03 ERA over 113.0 innings pitched.

After the All-Star break: 1-4 record with a 5.12 ERA over 58.0 innings pitched.

Another post All-Star game statistic to take note of is Pineda's home runs against. In nearly half the innings pitched, Pineda gave up almost as many home runs in the second half (8) compared to his first half (10.) That's a worrying statistic considering that Pineda is a high-velocity right-handed pitcher who be throwing in front of the homer-friendly backdrop of Yankee Stadium and its short right field porch.

This makes Pineda's need to master his change-up very important. His fastball and slider can be devastating but what Pineda needs most is an off-speed pitch that can throw off the timing of opposing batters.

While it is clearly about the long-term when discussing Pineda's value, the pressures of performing for a win-now ballclub in the Yankees and the scrutiny of the New York media will be a difficult hurdle for Pineda to adjust to in his debut season in the Bronx.

Already, many in the media have written headlines about his weight issues. Pineda came into camp 10 pounds overweight but that's nothing compared to the way the New York media can run a pitcher out of town.

He can quiet a lot of doubters by showing off an improved change-up in his spring debut this afternoon but if Pineda struggles through the first few months of the regular season, he'll quickly be on the shuttle to Triple-A Scranton. Baring a horrendous spring, I expect Pineda to fill the middle of the Yankees' rotation with Freddy Garcia being used out of the bullpen and waiting in the wings as a 'spot-starter.'

Given that CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda are highly-dependable number one and two starters in the Yankees' rotation, there will be plenty of pressure placed upon Pineda to provide backing. The Yankees' brass are hoping that Ivan Nova can avoid a second-year slump but if Nova regresses, an even larger burden will be thrust upon Pineda to perform right away.

A solid start to his Yankee career both in the spring and in the early months of the regular season will do Pineda and his employers a world of good.

Will Pineda be a success in pinstripes? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.

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