Michael Pineda had a less than stellar outing last night for the Tacoma Rainiers. The Mariners' top pitching prospect struggled against the Portland Beavers, lasting 3 2/3 innings, giving up six runs on eight hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He threw 81 pitches with just 53 strike.
That outing puts his total number of innings pitched between Double A West Tenn and Triple A Tacoma at 139 1/3innings this year. That's the most he's ever throw in a season. And it might be all he throws for the rest of this season.
The Mariners have closely monitored Pineda's pitch counts and innings pitched all season being extra cautious with their prized prospect.
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A year ago, Pineda was bothered by elbow problems and pitched just 47 1/3 innings. This year, he's nearly tripled that workload. He's been healthy the whole season, never missing a start or a bullpen session. But realistically it's time for the Mariners to shut him down for the rest of the season.
There was some thought that Pineda would make one more start - his turn in the rotation would be Wednesday against Colorado Springs. However after last night's outing, it looks like he could be shut down for the remainder of the season.
The Mariners front office and staff are in the process of making that decision.
"We’ll decide in the next couple of days what is best for his future and for the organization’s future," Mariners director of minor league operations said. "We’ll come up with something in the next 48 hours."
Grifol was on hand at Cheney Stadium to watch Pineda's outing and talked to him after the game.
"He says he feels great," Grifol said. "No problems and he feels strong."
But that doesn't mean Pineda isn't fighting fatigue from the building innings.
"He feels great and that’s normally what happens toward the end of the season when you get pushed to a limit you haven’t been before – you’re body feels great," Grifol said. "He’s a big strong guy and durable. But it’s that part of the year, he’s never been there before in his career."
Yes, Pineda pitched 138 1/3 innings for Class A Wisconsin, but Grifol dismissed that as a standard.
"That’s A ball - low A Ball," Grifol said. "These are professional hitter that he’s facing down there. He’s got to work a little harder and he can’t make mistakes. He’s been taken to a level where he hasn’t been before, so we’ll sit down and talk about the next couple days and see what we come up with."
Personally, I thought Pineda showed some signs of physical fatigue. His velocity on his fastball was pretty good, topping out at 97 mph and sitting usually around 94-96. However, he didn't have good command of the pitch - many of them up in the zone and his slider lacked some of the depth that it usually has. He just wasn't as crisp as I've seen him when he first got called up to Tacoma. The life on some of his pitches was missing despite him feeling strong.
Also with the lack of command on his pitches, Pineda was throwing fastball after fastball. That's not why they moved him to Triple A. He was supposed to work on "pitching" not "throwing."
Conor Dowley of Proball NW was there last night and thought the same thing.
Obviously, the news of Stephen Strasburg's torn UCL and upcoming Tommy John surgery will make Mariners fans a little paranoid about Pineda. But thus far the Mariners have done everything right with Pineda. Then again, it seemed like the Nationals did too. Grifol thought so.
"Things just happen," Grifol said. "The Nationals, in my opinion, did a tremendous job with Strasburg. They put him in the minor leagues and kept him on a nice schedule. It’s just one of those things that can happen to anyone at any time."
It is disappointing that we probably won't get to see Pineda pitch in the big leagues, or even help the Rainiers in the PCL playoffs, which will be played in Safeco Field. But you have to do what's best for the team and the player. And right now, shutting him down for the season seems like the best thing. He's 21 years old, there's plenty of time to get to the big leagues. There certainly is no reason to rush him. The rebuilding process won't happen overnight and he's a big part of it.