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Michael Pineda Goes Hunting, Brings Home Burlap Sack Full Of Blue Jays

I'm certain this isn't how this works
I'm certain this isn't how this works

Michael Pineda came in with one career start. He made it last week, in Texas. One start, and already all anyone wanted to talk about was the quality of his slider, and the quality of his changeup. He needs those offspeed pitches, we said. He needs those offspeed pitches if he wants to develop into an ace. One start, and I was already kind of dreading my postgame analysis, because I figured it would focus on Pineda's slider and changeup, and it sounded so dull and predictable. One start, and I was already tired of talking about Pineda's secondary pitches.

So you can imagine how thankful I am that I don't have to. I don't have to, because Pineda didn't throw a ton of secondary pitches against the Blue Jays tonight. Against the Blue Jays tonight, Pineda threw a ton of his primary pitch instead, and he dominated with it. Pineda's fastball tonight was as good as any starter's fastball I've seen in a long time, and it rang the little mental reminder bell that, while he has some work to do on honing his overall repertoire, he's starting from an elevated position. His heater is alive.

All night long, the Blue Jays had trouble catching up to it. I suppose that shouldn't be too surprising considering Pineda's average fastball was nearly 96mph and he was releasing it from 20 feet away, but he was throwing it right by some talented hitters. He came back from down 3-0 to whiff Jose Bautista in the first. He threw three in a row right by Adam Lind in the fourth. He knifed through J.P. Arencibia in the seventh. And those are only some of the more notable fastball punchouts.

Overall, Pineda threw 69 fastballs. 50 of them went for strikes, which is an outstanding number. The Blue Jays swung at 37 of them. 14 of those swings missed. On Tuesday night, Michael Pineda's fastball had a contact rate of 62%. You don't even need to know much about contact rate to understand how amazing that is. The lowest contact rate for a starter last season was 69%, and that was overall. Here, we're just talking about Pineda's fastball. The Blue Jays couldn't catch up to Pineda's bread-and-butter pitch.

We knew from Pineda's scouting report that his fastball projected to be a strength. That Pineda threw his fastball that hard, with such good command, gave him an advantage over other pitchers who start with a weaker building block. So it isn't a shock to see that Pineda's heater can be effective in the bigs. But to see that it can be this effective - this is just evidence of how high Pineda's ceiling really is. If he's capable of this right now, what might he be capable of if and when his other pitches come around?

Larry Stone got a good quote out of Corey Patterson when he asked about Pineda's secondary pitches:

They weren't terrible. But when you're throwing that hard, your offspeed doesn't have to be that great.

Michael Pineda has what Doug Fister doesn't have: a margin of error. If Fister is to succeed, he has to execute perfectly. If Pineda is to succeed, he doesn't, because he throws hard enough to make up for some mistakes. What Pineda has shown in the early going, against admittedly righty-heavy lineups, is that he can be successful as is, even unpolished. If he develops, he'll only become even more of a dream to us, and even more of a nightmare to others.

This wasn't quite Felix's Safeco debut, but it was pretty damn close. Michael Pineda just tossed a gem.

Just because I know people are going to ask, Pineda threw 26 sliders and eight changeups. His changeup, unsurprisingly, wasn't great, and the Blue Jays put it in play four times. So what we saw is that Pineda actually used his slider against lefties with some success. The one I think everyone's going to remember is a slider he used to strike out Travis Snider in the seventh:


The pitch dove off the table and wound up on Snider's shoe tops, which is just where a righty wants to put this pitch against a lefty. The only trouble is, look where Miguel Olivo was setting up. Olivo wanted that slider about a foot away from where it arrived. I think that captures the spirit of Pineda's slider pretty well. The ball moves well, but it doesn't always go where it's supposed to go, which sometimes helps, and sometimes hurts.

On the evening, Pineda's slider wasn't superb, but it served its purpose as a change of pace off his fastball. The slider kept the hitters honest, and therefore helped allow Pineda to throw his heat right by the guys at the plate. It's also worth noting that 19 of Pineda's 26 sliders were strikes. Even though the command wasn't great, the control was there, and the Blue Jays constantly found themselves behind in the count because Pineda's fastball and slider were all over the zone. Guess where you don't want to be against Michael Pineda?

Pineda won't always get to face lineups with six right-handed bats. What he's shown, though, is that when he does, he's a good bet to own them. We'll worry about his changeup another day. Another day, when he might actually need it.

  • In Michael Pineda's first start, he generated five groundballs on 17 balls in play. In his second start tonight, he generated four groundballs on 20 balls in play. That gives him a season groundball rate of 24%, which last year would've been the lowest in baseball. And it's no mystery why this has happened. What we saw tonight is that Pineda stayed consistently up and away against righties, and up and away against lefties. What's interesting is that his groundball rates in the minors have shown to be much higher. Pineda's never been this extreme, so either he has a new approach, the hitters have a new approach, or I'm reading way too deep into a two-game sample size and there's not actually anything here.

  • Pineda earned his first career Major League win tonight. As we've talked about with regard to Felix before, you and I don't really care about wins, but the pitchers sure as shoot do, so here's to Pineda getting just another boost for his confidence. It's only a matter of time before the guy thinks he can stop bullets with his mind.

  • We'll see how the mind bullets go, but with two outs in the fifth, Yunel Escobar hit a sharp comebacker off of Pineda's wrist. A lesser man might have grimaced. Josh Hamilton would've exploded in a puff of smoke. Michael Pineda looked around as if the miniature townsfolk were hurling pebbles. I remember one time when I was a kid I tried to cut down our avocado tree with a butter knife. I don't think the tree noticed.

  • We're all feeling celebratory now, but it's worth remembering that we came ever so close to giving this game away. After the Blue Jays trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the eighth, a throwing error by Miguel Olivo allowed Corey Patterson to reach third base with one out and Jose Bautista up against Chris Ray. I was expecting the sure double to the gap, but instead Bautista fouled out to first on one of those plays Justin Smoak seems to have a knack for dropping. And then, for whatever reason, Patterson broke for home, and Smoak made a throw to Olivo with such haste and precision that Patterson barely made an effort to score. It was an aggressive maneuver that badly backfired and robbed Adam Lind of an opportunity to get a big at bat against a bad pitcher.

  • The Mariners' lone offensive outburst was keyed by just the latest Ryan Langerhans home run, a two-run shot to right field off a first-pitch fastball. Ryan Langerhans seems to have the same skillset as Jack Hannahan, in that you're never surprised by their success because they always look like they know what they're doing. Langerhans and Hannahan play great defense, have good discipline, and have powerful, pull-happy swings. If you watch them play, and then you look at their career numbers, you'll think you pulled up the wrong page.

    Langerhans is such a good fit for Safeco Field.

  • Milton Bradley didn't appear to be wearing earplugs for his first at bat of the game, possibly because he was serving as the DH instead of playing left field. They were back in there for his second. At this point I'm convinced it isn't so much the hecklers in the stands he has a problem with as it is the sound of Carl Willis chewing. Carl Willis looks like a loud chewer.

  • You know what don't actually block out a lot of sound? Earplugs.

  • Root Sports voiceover guy, advertising tomorrow's matinee broadcast:

    Making the Mariners part of my lunch plans.

    Root Sports voiceover guy has completely given up. The cocky tone is still there, but the cocky message is long gone. Root Sports voiceover guy had his balls cut off. What does he mean "part of his lunch plans"? What the fuck else does the Root Sports voiceover guy have to do at the same time? The Mariners are your entire lunch plans. You have a three-hour lunch.

  • In the bottom of the fourth, home plate umpire John Hirschbeck caught a ball in the wrong area and the game paused for a brief delay while he took some deep breaths. The crowd was silent at first, and then gave Hirschbeck polite applause when he returned to his position. This is quite the change from your standard hockey game, where a referee injury is typically greeted with laughter. Baseball umpires may have to deal with an awful lot of hecklers, but at least people don't laugh when they get a concussion.

Jason Vargas will try to pitch the Mariners to a sweep tomorrow afternoon at 12:40. His opponent is Kyle Drabek, whose last name can be rearranged to spell "K-Beard". It's a strikeout beard. Kyle Drabek should grow a big bushy beard.