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Yankees 1, Rays 4: Pineda pitches like Pineda, Yanks drop first series

Michael Pineda started his season off on the wrong foot as the Yankees dropped the series finale in Tampa Bay.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

We’re a few days into the 2017 season, but boy did the Yankees just play a game that felt like an homage to 2016. Michael Pineda was ineffective and the offense appeared listless in an effort that was reminiscent of the Yankees’ slog through the first half last year. They fell 4-1 to drop the series to the Rays.

For a pitcher as unpredictable as Pineda, he began his season awfully predictably: by allowing a leadoff home run to Corey Dickerson on his third pitch of the night. Pineda seemingly splits his starts between unsightly five-run, five-inning outings and sparkling, six-shutout-inning starts. The inauspicious beginning seemed to hint toward the former.

But the Yankees quickly struck back, with Jacoby Ellsbury taking Alex Cobb deep for a solo shot in the second to tie the game. Ellsbury’s current slot in the five-hole of the lineup still appears jarring and may not be his optimal place, but he filled the role of power hitter for at least one night.

A day after Tropicana Field gifted Matt Holliday a double, the catwalks inside the dome turned a pop-up from Logan Morrison into a single, putting two on with none out in the second. Pineda fanned Tim Beckham, tossed a wild pitch to allow the runners to move up, then managed a grounder from Mallex Smith. Chase Headley delivered an errant throw home, but Gary Sanchez made a tough scoop and tag to nab the runner, Steven Souza. Souza looked like he might’ve been safe, but was still ruled out after replay review.

Nonetheless, Pineda yielded a two-run, two-out single to number nine hitter Derek Norris to give the Rays back the lead. Norris stole second and scored on a Dickerson single to make the score 4-1. Pineda struggled mightily both in two-out and RISP situations last season, and those issues reared their ugly heads immediately this year.

Pineda evaded trouble from there, but Joe Girardi exercised a quick hook in pulling him in favor of Tommy Layne in the fourth. Pineda finished with 3.2 innings, four runs, and six strikeouts. There were positive signs, as the large majority of the batted balls off Pineda were grounders, he issued no walks, and he generated plenty of swings and misses with his slider. He just gave up too much hard contact, and, ultimately, too many runs. In other words, it was a Pineda start.

Pineda is sometimes described as a pitcher who has control but not command, which is to say he can throw strikes, but lacks the ability to really hit his targets with his pitches. His strikezone map from tonight, courtesy of Baseball Savant, corroborates that:

He clearly had no problem finding the zone, as 69% (nice) of his pitches went for strikes. Yet plenty of Pineda’s pitches were either belt-high, over the heart of the plate, or both. Too many of those pitches is a good recipe for well-struck batted balls.

On the other side of the ball, the Yankees just couldn’t get much going against Cobb. He kept them off balance with his solid changeup, which the Yankees consistently swung through. He totaled four strikeouts against one walk, allowing one run in 5.2 innings.

The bullpen again put together a strong night. Layne, Adam Warren, and Chasen Shreve combined for 5.1 no-hit, scoreless innings in relief, and the bullpen as a whole has yet to give up a run in 2017. The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow, so the group will have a chance to rest, but this was the third straight game where a Yankee starter didn’t last deep into the game and tasked the bullpen with covering significant innings. That’s certainly not a concern so early in the season, but it could develop into one should the trend continue.

Other bright spots were few and far between. Headley kept up his strong start with two hits and a walk, and Sanchez notched his first hit with a groundball single, along with his first caught stealing. Sanchez is still at just 1-for-14 on the season though, which can’t be the start the young Baby Bomber envisioned for himself.

The Yankees will be back at it on Friday when they take on the Orioles at Camden Yards. Luis Severino will make his first start of the season as the Yankees try to avoid any sort of losing streak. Here’s hoping they remember to pack their bats on the plane to Baltimore.

Box Score