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Michael Pineda Nearing The End

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As Matthew fanshotted earlier, word's out that the Mariners have a plan in place for the remainder of Michael Pineda's 2011 season. According to Carl Willis, Pineda will make three more starts before being shut down. That's a reduction, albeit not a huge one, since Pineda would be in line for only five more starts anyway if the rotation stayed as is. Turns out the season's almost over! Today is the 30th of August!

For Pineda, three starts probably means about 18 or 19 innings, meaning he'll finish the season having thrown about 170-175 innings over 28 turns. This after throwing 139.1 innings in the minors a year ago, and 47.1 innings in the minors the year before that. So the major question is: have the Mariners handled him well? Have they been too aggressive with a young rookie pitcher in a development season?

The answer: it's impossible to tell. Look at Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals coddled him. The Nationals were so cautious and protective they might as well have had Strasburg sign an Etch A Sketch instead of a paper contract so as not to risk cutting his skin. Strasburg still got hurt. He tore an elbow ligament and missed a whole year.

Now look at Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner threw 141.1 innings in 2009 and was plagued by uncharacteristically low velocity. No matter; between the minors, the Majors and the playoffs, he threw 214.1 innings in 2010, for a workload increase of 52%. Bumgarner, so far, has remained healthy, and he's been even better this season than last. He looks like a survivor (so far).

Every pitcher's body is different, and we can't know for certain how much they can handle until they are dead. We can get some idea if they get hurt, but it's all so much guesswork. Guesswork and luck. So we can't say whether the Mariners have been too aggressive with Pineda, because we don't know Pineda's limits.

For what it's worth, Pineda's physical indicators don't suggest any kind of fatigue or developing injury. His fastball velocity is fine. His arm angle hasn't dropped. He hasn't complained about anything, and the last two times out he's thrown a ton of strikes, just like he did back in April. The only reason for concern at this stage is Pineda's innings total, and without any other warning lights, I feel like the concern level should be low.

Not way low, of course. Pineda is just 22. He is a starting pitcher, and he does throw a ton of sliders. More, he has yet to make it through his three remaining starts on the season. The last thing we ought to do is take Pineda's health for granted, because things could change at any instant.

For now, though, I feel pretty good. I feel like, with Pineda, the Mariners have found the right balance, and I'm content with the way he's been handled. I'll be crossing my fingers through September, and then again through all of next year, but as of this writing, it's looking like Michael Pineda's 2011 season is an overall major success.