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Improved slider has Pineda's K rate skyrocketing

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Just about the only way to describe the first two months of Michael Pineda's 2016 season is the way his manager, Joe Girardi, put it Thursday afternoon.

"Sometimes it doesn't make sense," Girardi said.

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NEW YORK -- Just about the only way to describe the first two months of Michael Pineda's 2016 season is the way his manager, Joe Girardi, put it Thursday afternoon.

"Sometimes it doesn't make sense," Girardi said.

View Full Game Coverage

But things are starting to make sense for Pineda, who allowed just one run on two hits in six innings for the second consecutive start Thursday in the Yankees' 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. Pineda was excellent, striking out 12 batters and not allowing a hit after the third batter he faced.

Video: TEX@NYY: Pineda's 12 strikeouts in 12 seconds

Despite allowing just two runs over his last 12 innings -- and 11 runs in his last 36 innings -- Pineda still has the seventh-worst ERA (5.24) of any qualifying American League pitcher, due primarily to the 6.92 ERA he posted in April and May. But since then, Pineda has turned things around, thanks in large part to his slider -- a vaunted strikeout pitch. Pineda's 12 strikeouts Thursday were a season high and his 10.88 K/9 rate is the best in the AL.

When the slider is working, Pineda is at his best, something of which he is acutely aware.

"We're really confident on the mound because when this pitch is there, we've got a lot of [strikeouts], we've got a lot of [swing-and-misses]," Pineda said.

Pineda said he feels that the slider is the main reason he's improved in June, and that improvement can be traced back to a mechanical tweak he made at the beginning of the month. Over the past year or so, Pineda's arm angle on his slider had been gradually rising, and he has had to train himself to bring it back down to its original, lower slot.

The results have been obvious; Pineda struck out 49 batters in 36 innings in June.

As Rangers manager Jeff Banister put it, Pineda is the kind of guy who can "throw like an ace, or give up some runs." There's no doubt that Pineda has had his ace stuff over his last six starts. And there are some indicators that his best has yet to come.

Even though Pineda has only allowed four hits in his last two starts combined, he still holds the worst batting average on balls in play of any AL pitcher, something that might validate Girardi's claim that Pineda has been disproportionately punished by opponents for his mistakes. As that mark continues to drop from its high mark of .347, so too will his ERA.

But that's all in the future. In the present, Pineda and Girardi can only reflect. And Thursday was a pretty good game to reflect on.

"I thought he was really impressive," Girardi said. "It might have been, and probably was, his best start of the year."

Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.

New York Yankees, Michael Pineda