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Pineda makes strong statement for rotation job

Righty fires 4 1/3 scoreless frames, continues to draw praise from teammates

TAMPA, Fla. -- The challenge may no longer be for Michael Pineda to win the Yankees' fifth rotation spot. With two weeks to go until Opening Day, it might be a greater accomplishment for someone to steal the job from him.

Pineda turned in another dazzling outing on Tuesday, holding the Red Sox to four hits over 4 1/3 scoreless innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field. The right-hander has not allowed a run all spring and tacked on another five strikeouts, giving him 14 whiffs and one walk in nine Grapefruit League innings.

"I really like it. Really good start today," Pineda said. "I'm happy with that. I threw the ball great, threw the ball down in the zone. I threw a lot of strikes. That makes me happy."

As Pineda returns from the right labrum surgery that has thus far kept him from throwing a regular-season pitch for the Yankees, he said that his mechanics are even sharper than they were during his 2011 All-Star season with the Mariners.

Pineda arrived in camp this spring in shape and intent on securing that fifth-starter spot, saying that he did not want to go back to the Minors. The 25-year-old said that he feels good about his chances of fulfilling that goal, but obviously the decision is not up to him.

"I don't have the control [of] the situation," Pineda said. "The only thing I have control [of] is to be ready and pitch a good game every five days."

So far, it looks like he has the tool kit for that. Francisco Cervelli caught Pineda during Tuesday's start, his first time working with Pineda since the spring of 2012, when Pineda showed up to camp overweight and trying to manufacture velocity.

The difference has been noticeable, Cervelli said.

"The speed was different. At that time, it looked like he had something [wrong]," Cervelli said. "The slider wasn't like it was today. There was more spin and you could see it when it came off of his hand. Right now, it's a late one and that's good."

Pineda threw 45 of 60 pitches for strikes in Tuesday's outing, showcasing a good slider and changeup to accompany a fastball that touched 94 mph. That's down a few ticks from 2011, when his heater averaged 96 mph, but Pineda said that he had good energy in the fifth inning and his stamina is building.

"If he's healthy, if he's the guy we traded for a couple of years ago, he's a top of the rotation starter -- and those guys don't come around easily," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "You've got to really develop those kind of guys. He's still young and he still has a bright future if he's healthy."

Pineda mostly sat 91 to 92 mph with his fastball against Boston, and he said that his shoulder feels stronger with every outing, so he still keeps one eye on the radar gun to measure his progress.

"I'm working for getting my old velocity back," Pineda said. "I'm feeling good and my shoulder is good, so the velocity is coming."

Manager Joe Girardi is less concerned with Pineda's velocity than his pace. On that topic, Pineda's three spring appearances (two starts) and handful of side sessions have garnered positive reviews.

"Obviously, he feels good," Girardi said. "He's getting right back up on the mound, throwing pitch after pitch. It doesn't look like a guy that's coming back from a serious injury."

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said that Pineda has come a long way since last season, when he combined to go 2-0 with a 2.82 ERA in five rehab starts at Class A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

"I saw him in Triple-A last year," Bogaerts said. "This year, he's definitely much better than last year. He's pretty good, but it's good that we saw him now. It should help if we face him again."

Girardi is still not ready to anoint Pineda -- or anyone -- as the Yankees' fifth starter. David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno remain in the mix, but Phelps, who will start Thursday, is the only one of those hurlers with a scheduled outing marked on the whiteboard in Girardi's office.

"The other guys are throwing pretty well, too," Girardi said. "We've got to figure out what's best for our team as a whole. We'll sort that out as we move forward here, but I'm sure we'll start having a lot of discussions when we get some home games here and talk about how everyone fits."

Pineda will get the ball on Sunday against the Blue Jays, and Girardi said that he and the coaching staff will probably use Monday's off-day to have serious talks about the rotation. Because they have so many legitimate contenders for the fifth spot, the selection process for the bullpen has been gummed up.

"I'm not married to a day, but obviously the sooner you do it, the easier it is to prepare everyone for what they're going to do," Girardi said.

Pineda understands that nothing has been guaranteed, but he believes that he has done enough to prove that he is ready -- finally -- to get those first big league outs in a Yankees uniform.

"I'm very excited for the season," Pineda said. "I want to stay on the team and I really want to pitch in New York, because, you know, I've never pitched in New York. I'm really working hard every day for being on the team."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
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