Game 101: So Long, Texas

"Yo, I heard they picked up this Ackley guy who used to be a second baseman." (Presswire)
“Yo, I heard they picked up this Ackley guy who used to be a second baseman.” (Presswire)

Some series go by quickly, some go by slowly, and for some reason this four-game set with the Rangers feels like it has been going on for two weeks. Maybe it’s just me. That crazy game two nights ago, the 21-5 game, took forever. Maybe that’s what it is. I feel like the Yankees are been in Texas for a month.

Anyway, the Yankees and Rangers finally wrap up this four-game series tonight and the Yankees have a streak on the line. They’ve won each of their last six series — the last series loss was in Anaheim last month — and tonight they have a chance to stretch it to seven. Winning a four-game series is tough, but they can do it tonight. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    LHP CC Sabathia

Last day in the heat. Temperatures have again been over 100 degrees all day in Arlington and they’ll be in the 90s when the game begins. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Michael Pineda was placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade I flexor muscle strain in his forearm. It’s the same thing Andrew Miller had earlier this year. Pineda told reporters the MRI showed only inflammation and he’s not worried. He will be shut down 7-10 days before he can resume throwing … Ivan Nova (arm fatigue) threw a bullpen session today and is on track to make his next start.

Roster Moves: Pineda was placed on the DL and Caleb Cotham was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. Nick Goody and Bryan Mitchell were both called up in corresponding moves. Pineda’s DL stint allows them to bring Goody back before his ten-day window expires … Also, in case you missed it, the Yankees acquired Dustin Ackley in a three-player trade today. He won’t be in uniform tonight though. Joe Girardi said he’ll be a utility guy, not the starting second baseman.

Rotation Update: Nathan Eovaldi will start tomorrow and Nova will start Sunday, but Saturday’s starter is TBA, the Yankees say. I have to think Mitchell is an option. Esmil Rogers is scheduled to start that day for Triple-A Scranton, if you’re curious.

Update: Pineda heading to DL with Grade I forearm strain

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

2:59pm ET: It’s official. The Yankees have placed Pineda on the 15-day DL with a “right flexor forearm muscle strain,” the team announced. They did not give a timetable. Sabathia will be bumped up a day to start tonight. He’ll be on normal rest because of Tuesday’s spot starter.

2:37pm ET: Pineda is heading to the DL with a Grade I forearm muscle strain, reports Joel Sherman. It’s the same injury Andrew Miller had earlier this year. Miller missed a month but is a reliever who didn’t have to get stretched out. Between healing time and a minor league rehab assignment, Pineda could be out six to eight weeks. We’ll see. Sherman says Bryan Mitchell is being called up for long relief and Sabathia will start in place of Pineda tonight.

1:45pm ET: Well this is ominous. According to Marly Rivera, Michael Pineda has been scratched from tonight’s start with tightness in his forearm. Apparently Mike Francesa was first to report the news. No word on who will start tonight, but it could be CC Sabathia on normal rest. The Yankees have not yet officially announced anything.

Forearm tightness is usually code for an elbow injury. Pineda missed time with an elbow strain while in the minors back in 2009 but has had no trouble since as far as I can tell. He missed a bunch of time with shoulder trouble the last few years, but that’s it. His elbow has been sound.

Pineda, 26, has a 3.97 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 118 innings, by far the most innings he’s thrown since his rookie season in 2011. He tossed just 76.1 innings around a lat strain. Pineda’s control has been shaky at times this year, which is often a symptom of looming elbow trouble. He’s also a slider heavy pitcher, throwing it 33.5% of the time this season. Sliders are ostensibly bad for the elbow.

Even before Pineda’s injury, the Yankees needed pitching help to bolster a starting staff with a 4.32 ERA, ranking 21st in MLB. David Price and Johnny Cueto are off the board, Scott Kazmir too, but there are still quite a few arms available on the trade market, including Mike Leake and Yovani Gallardo. Either way, fingers crossed for Pineda. This is big picture scary.

2015 Midseason Review: The Risky, High-Upside Rotation

Boy, the rotation was such a big concern coming into the season. We were talking about every scrap heap starter imaginable in Spring Training — Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Erasmo Ramirez, yikes — as if they would be some kind of upgrade. The Yankees never did add another starter in camp, and while the staff as a whole has been just okay (4.24 ERA and 3.75 FIP), they’ve stayed relatively healthy and have the potential to be much better in the second half. Nathan Eovaldi is both frustrating and evolving. The rest of the rotation? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Elbow Holding Up, Pitches Left Up

Needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was the single biggest injury risk the Yankees had heading into the 2015 season. He’s their ace, he was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball before getting hurt last year, and now the partially torn ligament in his elbow is like a storm cloud looming over every pitch. You can’t help but let it linger in the back of your mind.

So far this season Tanaka’s elbow has stayed in one piece — he spent a month on the DL with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, and of course forearm strains are synonymous with elbow problems — but his performance has been uneven. He’s had some truly great starts and some truly awful ones as well. The end result is a 3.63 ERA (3.60 FIP) with strikeout (24.9%), walk (4.8%), and ground ball (47.6%) rates right in line with last year (26.0%, 3.9%, and 46.6%, respectively).

Tanaka’s start-to-start performance has been much more unpredictable, however. Last year he had an average Game Score of 63.4 with a standard deviation of 13.3. This year it’s an average of 56.3 with a standard deviation of 18.7, which means Tanaka’s starts this season are deviating from his average Game Score by a larger margin. So when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad. Tanaka has some terrible starts earlier this season, no doubt about it.

The common thread whenever Tanaka has a subpar start seems to be his location, particularly leaving pitches up in the zone. Not so much his fastball, but his slider and splitter. Tanaka’s split-piece is world class, that thing is devastating, but if it’s left up in the zone rather than buried in the dirt, it’s basically a batting practice fastball. It’s no surprise then that Tanaka’s home run rate has climbed from 0.99 HR/9 (14.0 HR/FB%) last year to 1.34 HR/9 (15.4 HR/FB%) this year.

No, Tanaka has not been as good as he was last season before the injury, but overall he’s been solid for the Yankees this year and at times spectacular. The Yankees want to see more of the spectacular Tanaka in the second half and they’re going to need him to get to the postseason. So far his elbow is holding up — his velocity is fine and his swing-and-miss rate is still top notch — and that ace ability exists. More start-to-start consistency and fewer grooved pitches are the key going forward.

(Presswire)
That’s quite the wingspan. (Presswire)

Large Michael

Okay, so I knew Michael Pineda had been pretty awesome in the first half, but holy smokes, I didn’t realize how good his rates are: 25.2% strikeouts, 3.0% walks, 50.3% grounders. That is insane. Among the 97 qualified starters that is the 14th best strikeout rate, the fourth best walk rate, and the 22nd best ground ball rate. Holy smokes. Only Max Scherzer (10.71) has a better K/BB ratio than Pineda (8.54). Gosh.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we have to talk about Pineda’s good but not great 3.64 ERA (109 ERA+) and those 115 hits he’s allowed in 106.1 innings. The peripherals are fan-friggin-tastic, but there’s a disconnect here. The 1.01-run gap between Pineda’s ERA and FIP is the fifth largest gap among qualified starters and by far the largest among pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA. When Pineda is on, he does things like this …

… but when he’s off, he can’t command his slider and runs short on weapons. Pineda’s slider is absurd when it’s on. It’s an unhittable pitch. But when he doesn’t have it working, Pineda almost becomes a one-pitch pitcher because his changeup, while improved, isn’t a consistent weapon yet. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is really good, it’s just less good when hitters don’t have to honor the slider.

Like Tanaka, Pineda has had his fair share of brilliant starts and duds this year, though Pineda’s duds were bunched together — he had a 6.10 ERA (4.09 FIP) in the seven starts immediately following the 16-strikeout game. Big Mike had a 2.68 ERA (1.89 FIP) in six starts before the 16-strikeout game and he had a 1.25 ERA (1.74 FIP) in his last three starts before the break. So it was seven really bad starts sandwiched between two excellent stretches. Maybe he overextended himself during the 16-strikeout game and it threw him out of whack a bit.

Either way, the biggest concern with Pineda going forward is his workload. He’s on pace for 195 innings after throwing 76.1 innings last year, 40.2 innings the year before, and none the year before that due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees already skipped one of his starts and they will inevitably do it again in the second half. They have no choice. His right arm is too special and it already broke once. They can’t push it again. Like Tanaka, Pineda has ace upside at his best, though the Yankees will have to rein in his excellence in the second half to keep him healthy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

End Of The Line

Believe it or not, I picked CC Sabathia to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year before the season. That was pure homerism, me foolishly thinking he would get back on track — not necessarily be an ace again, but serviceable — following knee surgery, but nope. It hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sabathia’s late-career decline has continued this season with a 5.47 ERA (4.52 FIP) in 100.1 innings. He isn’t walking anyone (4.6%), so that’s good, but he’s giving up a ton of homers (1.70 HR/9) and getting annihilated by right-handed batters (.325/.367/.565 and .397 wOBA). His dominance of left-handed batters (.189/.198/.258 and .198 wOBA) would be more useful if he faced more than 91 of ’em in the first half.

It feels like every Sabathia start plays out the same way: a good first inning that gives you hope he’ll have a good start, a three or four-run second inning that knocks you back to reality, then zeroes the rest of the night that leave you wondering why the One Bad Inning can never be avoided. That’s the Sabathia formula in 2015. It feels like it happens every time out.

The Yankees have already made it known Sabathia will not be losing his rotation spot anytime soon, obviously because of his contract. That’s fine, they’re not the only team giving an undeserving player a lot of playing time because of money, but the Yankees are making life harder on themselves by leaving CC in the rotation. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2015, there’s no slicing and dicing the numbers to make it look better, and getting to the postseason will be tougher because of him.

Too Good To Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees pulled Adam Warren from the rotation a few weeks ago, he was leading the starters with a 3.59 ERA and had just started to look comfortable in that role. April wasn’t all that good for Warren, who looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter, but he got into a groove in the middle of May and was the team’s most reliable starter for a good stretch of time.

Warren lost his starting job through no fault of his own. He pitched well, but the Yankees had a need for a right-handed reliever after David Carpenter flopped and Warren has had success out of the bullpen, plus the team was unwilling to remove Sabathia from the rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery. Warren did not deserve to move to the bullpen but man, life isn’t fair.

I’m not sure the 14-start stint told us much about Warren we didn’t already know. He threw five pitches regularly, which is something he did even in relief, so it’s not like we had to see if he had the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. Warren did show he could hold his velocity deep into games, so I guess that’s something we learned:

Adam Warren velocity by inning

His strikeout (16.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates as a starter this year certainly weren’t as good as they were as a reliever last year (23.5% and 45.4%, respectively), which isn’t surprising. Every pitcher sees their performance tick up on a rate basis when they move into a short relief role. Warren’s no different. He wasn’t an ace, far from it, but he was a perfectly competent Major League starting pitcher.

It’s easy to forget Warren only made the rotation because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. He was the sixth starter — if the Yankees are to be believed, he was competing for the sixth starter’s job with Esmil Rogers, which, lol — who got a rotation spot thanks to injury. Capuano’s quad gave Warren an opportunity and he took advantage. He showed he can start in the big leagues. His move to the bullpen says more about the team’s decision-making than it does Warren’s performance.

Unlocking the mystery of Michael Pineda

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Along with the shiny ERA (1.89) and ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.4), perhaps the most impressive part of Michael Pineda’s 2014 campaign was his consistency from start-to-start.

Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James that provides a quick-and-dirty evaluation of a pitcher’s start. Every pitcher begins a game with 50 points and then gets points added/subtracted based on innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, hits and runs allowed. 50 is average, anything above 90 is awesome, and anything below 10 is horrible.

Last year, Pineda posted an above-average Game Score in 11 of his 13 starts — the exceptions were the pine tar game in April and his September 11 start against the Rays when he allowed 10 hits and four runs in 7 1/3 innings (Game Score of 44).

Pineda’s 2015 season couldn’t be any more different. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance — the 16-strikeout gem against the Orioles, the one-hit masterpiece against the Marlins — he’s also had his share of clunkers. Six of his 14 starts have produced a Game Score under 50, including a career-worst Game Score of 5 in his most recent start on June 22. He’s basically been either a stud or a dud this season, and can go from elite to enigma in the blink of an eye.

Strap in, because this roller coaster ride is not for those with weak stomachs:

Pineda GmScr

The peaks and valley have become even more extreme in his last seven starts, which have resulted in the following game scores, starting with his May 15 outing against the Royals: 29, 37, 65, 57, 23, 75, 5. Yikes.

How can we explain this bizarre Jekyll-and-Hyde sequence from a pitcher that last year resembled a metronome (when healthy)?

A scout recently told John Harper of the New York Daily News that one reason for the huge disparity in Pineda’s performance lies in the inconsistent execution of his signature slider:

“His height creates an angle on the slider that hitters don’t usually see and when it has a sharp break they don’t hit it. But when he doesn’t have the tight spin and the sharp break, it hangs in the strike zone and it’s getting hit.”

This is what Prince Fielder can do with a hanging slider from Pineda:

ezgif.com-crop (2)

But Lorenzo Cain had no chance on this nasty slider from Pineda:

ezgif.com-crop (3)

Pineda’s last two starts have been a microcosm of his season. On June 17 against the Marlins he was at his absolute best, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Five days later against the Phillies, he pitched the worst game of his career.

Just as the scout noted, his slider was much flatter against the Phillies compared to his previous start, averaging nearly an inch less vertical movement and three-quarters of an inch less horizontal movement. Against the Marlins, his slider netted Pineda nine outs — including six strikeouts — with no hits allowed; the Phillies put six of his sliders in play and got three hits off the pitch.

But it wasn’t just a sloppy slider that doomed Pineda against the Phillies. Similar to his other disaster starts this season, he struggled to hit his spots with his cutter and batters pounded the poorly located pitches.

As you can see in the images below, he did a good job of avoiding the middle of the zone vs. the Marlins (on the top). But he threw far too many cutters (dark red dots) over the heart of the plate vs. the Phillies (on the bottom), who got seven hits and made just four outs against the pitch.

Pineda vs Marlins

pineda vs Phillies

When Pineda is at his best, he’s got a sharp slider and devastating cutter that makes him nearly unhittable. But at his worst, he’s forced to navigate lineups with flat sliders and batting-practice cut fastballs — a pitching arsenal that becomes crushable even against the worst offensive team in the majors. Although this inability to execute his pitches probably doesn’t completely explain Pineda’s inconsistency this season, it’s something that can’t be ignored.

Once tabbed as the future ace of the Yankees pitching staff, Pineda is now a mystery with the potential to either dominate or detonate when he steps on the mound. The question remains: can he find the consistent approach necessary to make him a true top-of-the-rotation starter?

Pitching plans show the Yankees wisely have their eyes on the big picture

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, Michael Pineda turned in arguably his best start of the season, which is pretty impressive when you consider he struck out 16 batters in a game last month. Big Mike carved through the Marlins with his mid-90s electricutter and the best slider command he’s had since the 16-strikeout game. It was Pineda at his best. Overwhelming dominance.

Five days ago Pineda suffered through arguably his worst start of the season by allowing six runs on nine hits in only 4.1 innings against the Orioles, the same Orioles he struck out 16 times a few weeks ago. His slider wasn’t behaving and his location was terrible, hence all the damage. Perhaps not coincidentally, last night’s start came on normal rest while the start in Baltimore came on eleven days rest.

“There’s days he hasn’t had his slider and he’s been on regular rest. So there is no answer to this, as much as you guys want one. There is no exact science,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch last night when asked about Pineda dominating on normal rest and struggling with extra rest.”These guys are creatures of habit, but sometimes you have to make adjustments. You have off days that you have to adjust to.”

The Yankees didn’t skip Pineda’s start two weeks ago for the heck of it. They did it because they’re trying to keep him healthy, and because he threw 124.2 total innings from 2012-14 following major shoulder surgery. Pineda has already thrown more big league innings this season (81.1) than he did last season (76.1) and we’re only halfway through June. Again: major shoulder surgery in the not too distant past!

Pineda is not the only pitcher who is having his workload monitored. Masahiro Tanaka‘s next start has been pushed back to give him an extra day of rest, something the team is trying to do as much as possible this year. They aren’t so concerned about his exact innings total, they’re just playing it safe with the partial ligament tear in his elbow. Adam Warren, a reliever turned starter who is two starts away from exceeding last year’s innings total, has also had some starts pushed back in recent weeks.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are clearly looking at the big picture here and are willing to lose the battle (Pineda vs. the Orioles) to win the war (Pineda the rest of the season) with their rotation. Having Pineda, Tanaka, Warren, and whoever else around and not just healthy, but productive as well in the second half is far more important than one or two starts right now, before the halfway point of the season. Skipping that start seems to have resulted in a poor outing for Pineda against the O’s. The hope is it will lead to an effective Pineda in September and October.

The workload manipulation is only going to continue these next few weeks, so it would be nice if Pineda figured out how to remain effective in starts with extra rest. That’s an adjustment he has to make. The Yankees may use a six-man rotation when Ivan Nova returns and they figure to insert a spot sixth starter several times down the stretch — they were prepared to start Bryan Mitchell this Saturday until Nathan Eovaldi‘s short start on Tuesday, allowing him to come back on short rest. My guess is Mitchell will still end up taking a few rotation turns later this year.

There is definitely a time and a place for focusing on the here and now, especially with the AL East so tight. The Yankees aren’t at that place right now. There is still 60% of the season to be played and they have to be cognizant of their starters’ physical limitations and do their best to keep everyone healthy and sharp all season. If that means sacrificing some starts now a la Pineda against the Orioles, then so be it. The big picture is far too important right now.

Game 55: Back from the West Coast

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

That was a really uneven seven-game trip to the West Coast. The Yankees played poorly in losing two of three to the Athletics then had basically the best series ever while sweeping the Mariners. They pounded Felix Hernandez in the first game, had a dramatic ninth inning comeback in the second game, and watched Masahiro Tanaka dominate in his return from the DL in the third game. How could it get any better?

Thankfully, the Yankees are back home in the Bronx for a quick five-game homestand, starting tonight with the first of three against the Angels. The Halos had the best record in baseball a year ago but are kinda scuffling along this year. In fact, they have almost the same record as the Yankees. The Yankees are 29-25 and the Angels are 28-26. Anyway, here is Anaheim’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. LF Ramon Flores
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

The weather is kinda crummy in New York. It’s been raining on and off all day, though there’s nothing more than some drizzle in the forecast tonight. That’s good. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally, depending where you live. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Update: The Yankees are skipping Michael Pineda‘s next start to control his workload. He isn’t hurt and will start next Friday. CC Sabathia will start on normal rest Sunday in Pineda’s place. The Yankees had an off-day yesterday and have off-days coming up on Monday and Thursday, so they can skip Pineda without needing a spot starter. Big Mike has already thrown 70.1 innings this year and is on pace for about 220 innings. He threw 76.1 innings last year and a career-high 171 innings back in 2011, before shoulder surgery.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) ran some sprints, took dry swings, and played catch today, the first time he’s performed any baseball activity since getting hurt … Ivan Nova (elbow) will make his first official minor league rehab start with High-A Tampa on Monday, the team announced. He is scheduled for 80-85 pitches and will make at least one more start after that before returning to the team … Carlos Beltran (foot) is still day-to-day after fouling that pitch off his foot in Seattle. He may be available to pinch-hit tonight … McCann (foot) got some new orthotics and tested his foot in the bullpen this afternoon. He’s fine and back in the lineup.

Can Michael Pineda rebound against the Royals?

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Michael Pineda was the model of consistency for the first 20 games of his pinstriped career. He never gave up more than three runs in consecutive outings, and he’d never had a “disaster” start where he allowed more runs than innings pitched (except for his pine tar-shortend game last year).

Until May 15 (5 1/3 IP, 5 R, 10 H, 1 K) and May 22 (6 IP, 7 R, 8 H, 4 K) happened.

It’s definitely not time to press the panic button after just two poor starts, but this (extremely) mini-slump is somewhat noteworthy because it’s the first time Pineda has struggled in back-to-back outings since joining the Yankees.

With Pineda facing the Royals again this afternoon — the same lineup that clobbered him less than two weeks ago — let’s take a look inside the numbers to see what’s gone wrong for the right-hander in his last two turns, and how he can get back on track against the best team in baseball on Wednesday.

*******

Here’s a quick overview of his first seven starts this season compared to his last two:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR
Last 2 11 1/3 7.15 4.82 9.3% 1.9% 2
First 7 46 1/3 2.72 1.91 29.5% 1.6% 3

The most shocking number in the table above is the huge drop in his strikeout rate. Sure, that 30 percent figure is skewed a bit by the 16-strikeout game. But the fact that he’s had his two lowest strikeout totals of the season in his last two games is really hard to ignore.

Predictably, batters are making more contact against Pineda in his past two games (83 percent) compared to his first seven (77 percent), but that doesn’t completely explain the lack of whiffs. Almost all of the increase in that contact rate is on pitches outside the zone — the pitches that he normally uses to get strikeouts.

Contact % O-Swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact %
Last 2 82.9% 34.8% 71.0% 87.5%
First 7 76.5% 32.3% 56.9% 86.5%

So while Pineda is still generating above-average swing rates on those out-of-zone offerings, hitters haven’t been fooled by his stuff and he’s not missing as many bats with those pitches.

Over his last two games, his signature slider has hardly been the wipeout pitch that made Pineda such a dominant force on the mound to start the season. He’s lost about an inch of horizontal movement on his slider, making it easier for hitters to square up on the pitch. After getting batters to whiff on 19 percent of his sliders in his first seven games, that rate has plummeted to just nine percent since then.

pineda whiffs animate

Another concern related to this lack of strikeouts is his inability to finish off hitters when ahead. Pineda is actually getting into more favorable counts now, but he hasn’t been able to execute those put-away pitches.

Opponents are 5-for-8 against him in pitchers’ counts over the last two games, a situation that the Royals really took advantage of when they crushed Pineda on May 15. The game was decided in the sixth inning as Pineda allowed two doubles and a triple to three of the first four batters he faced — unsurprisingly, each of those extra-base hits came on a 1-2 pitch from the right-hander.

The other obvious problem for Pineda recently is that he’s simply been more hittable, and he’s given up nearly as many runs in his last two outings (12) as in his first seven (14). Let’s break it down, good-bad-ugly style:

• The good: he’s still generating ground balls at the exact same rate (53 percent);
• The bad: he’s traded a few fly balls for line drives;
• The ugly: he’s really struggled when pitching from stretch:

After limiting batters to a .230 average with runners on base in his first seven starts, they are 8-for-20 (.400) over the last two games. Even worse, Pineda has stranded just 43 percent of baserunners during this mini-slump, a drop of more than 30 percentage points from the first month of the season (78 percent). Not being able to get that big strikeout in those key scoring situations has really hurt him recently.

******

While there are some reasons to be optimistic that Pineda will be able to rebound today against the Royals — he’s still getting a ton of grounders, showing excellent control and limiting walks — he will definitely be challenged by Kansas City’s high-contact lineup and powerful lefty bats.

Pineda, who held opposite-handed batters to a .200 average in his first seven outings, has been hit hard by lefties in his last two starts. They are a combined 10-for-24, and he’s allowed identical 5-for-12 lines against both the Royals (May 15) and Rangers (May 22).

If Pineda can’t contain the Royals’ quartet of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales — three lefties and a switch-hitter — it could be another long afternoon for the Yankees and their budding staff ace.