Yankee fans collectively breathed a sigh of relief yesterday, with the news that Michael Pineda’s injury wasn’t all that serious. It would now be easy to assume he’ll rest up for a few weeks, come back firing 95 MPH fastballs and assume his rightful place in the Yankee rotation. But I’m here to tell you I don’t think that’s the case, not even close. If you walk through the timeline of his rehab, I would argue you won’t see him back with the team indefinitely, barring injury or complete ineffectiveness by one of the other five members of the Yankee rotation. Further, I think there’s a good chance he won’t be back with the club until September. Yes, September.
In order to see where I’m coming from, let’s walk through the stages of his rehab. We’ve seen this play out before. When Joba Chamberlain was diagnosed with the same injury (shoulder tendonitis) in August 2008, he missed a month and came back that September as a reliever, mostly to keep his innings down. But doing that meant they didn’t have to stretch him back out as a starter, which would have taken more time. When Phil Hughes came into camp out of shape last year and didn’t have his usual fastball, he was diagnosed with shoulder inflammation and missed 2 and a half months between rest, getting himself back into shape and getting stretched out with his rehab outings. Given how his stuff was down this spring, we may very well see the rehab akin to the approach they took with Hughes, where he spent a month getting in shape before he even stepped back out on a mound. But even if he comes back as quickly as Joba did (doubtful) he still won’t have a spot on the MLB club.
Let’s examine a best case scenario. First, with his diagnosis of shoulder tendinitis he’s going to be shut down for the entire 15 days of his DL stint. No throwing, though he may be allowed to do some cardio work and whatnot. That puts us in mid-April. Next, they’ll give him a bullpen session to see what he looks like, and see how he feels the next day. Assuming there are no setbacks, he then heads to the AAA Empire State Yankees (formerly Scranton Wilkes-Barres) to begin his rehab. This is effectively the beginning of the spring training season all over again for him. They’ll build up his innings slowly, as you would with any pitcher. He’ll begin with around 40-50 pitches and add 10-15 each outing, building up to the point where he can go 100+ and give you 6-7 innings per start, minimum. That should take around 4-5 outings, or another month depending on the schedule. That puts you somewhere around the middle of May.
While all of this is going on, there’s another Yankee pitcher who began his spring training a few weeks ago and is on target to rejoin the team around May 1st. One Andrew Eugene Pettitte. As things stand today, Andy takes Freddy Garcia’s spot in the rotation. That gives you 6 MLB starters on the 25 man roster without Pineda. Assuming everyone is pitching reasonably well, which is not a very high bar to clear, Pineda stays put in AAA indefinitely. The 2012 Yankee rotation is filled with veterans who will be given every chance to turn things around even if they’re not throwing the ball well. Even the player with the least amount of experience, Ivan Nova, won 16 games in New York last year, and we’ve seen too many quality veteran imports (Weaver, Brown, Pavano, Wright, Burnett, Vazquez) come here and fail not value those wins heavily. One of the starting five would have to pitch horribly (ala 2011 Hughes or 2009 Wang) in order for them to lose their spot. Or, of course, someone would have to get injured where the decision is made for you.
All of this adds up Michael Pineda pitching for the AAA club for the foreseeable future, with no date set for his return. I know that fans of Jesus Montero will be repulsed by this scenario, saying we gave up a big bat for a guy who’s not even on the team. But those folks need to understand that Jesus Montero is no longer a member of the Yankee organization, and therefore no longer a consideration in the decisions being made going forward. Maybe Brian Cashman looks bad from a PR standpoint in 2012, but if we know anything about Brian we know he is unfailingly patient. This trade wont be given its final grade in 2012 or even 2014. We will have to wait at least 5 years to see if it worked out or not, and Jose Campos will be part of that equation. But as things stand today, it looks like Michael Pineda won’t get an opportunity to do his part of the evaluation anytime soon.
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