Michael Pineda has been a reliable starter for the Minnesota Twins ever since the middle of last season. With the Twins competing in the closest division in baseball this year, they are getting him back at the perfect time.
But just how good has Pineda been since the back half of the 2019 season? Let’s take a look:
Pineda’s hot streak last season
Pineda struggled early on last year. In April of 2019, Big Mike started five games and had a 2-2 record with a 7.20 ERA. Batters hit .340 against him.
As the year progressed the then-30-year-old started to find his rhythm. After May he maintained a sub-3.60 ERA and may have been the Twins’ Game 1 starter against the New York Yankees.
In the three games prior to his last game of the 2019 season he threw a total of 17 innings, giving up only four earned runs and striking out 27 batters. He was arguably the best pitcher in the starting rotation leading up to his Sept. 7 suspension.
Pineda, a repeat offender, was suspended for 80 games for the use of a banned diuretic.
On April 23, 2014, Pineda was ejected in a start against Boston while playing for the Yankees. He was handed a 10-game suspension after umpire Gerry Davis was alerted to pine tar on his neck by then-Red Sox manager John Farrell.
Pineda was using pine tar to get a better grip on the ball. Whether or not he used it throughout the season is unknown, but during his first year in the Bronx he started in 13 games, had a 5-5 record and an ERA of 1.89 in 76.1 innings.
His suspension last year was different, however, and the punishment was worse. The substance he tested positive for was banned because of its ability to block the detection of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.
Pineda argued that he was not taking the substance for that purpose, and his suspension was reduced to 60 games instead of 80. He served 21 of those games last season and started the 37th game of the 2020 regular season.
It was an open question whether or not Pineda could repeat his late-season success after being forced to take 60 games off in what was almost a calendar year thanks to COVID-19. His first two starts this year indicate he’s back to where he was last season.
Through two games Pineda has pitched 13 innings and owns a 1-0 record with 12 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.77.
Pineda has continued to use his three main pitches; a slider, changeup and fastball. He’s averaging a velocity of 91.6 mph on his fastball and batters are hitting sub-.225 against it.
While his pitch usage hasn’t appeared to have changed much, he has gone to his slider 10% more and also has a whiff percentage of 45.5 while batters are hitting and slugging .167 against it.
The Twins have pitched well and are in contention for the AL Central title, so Pineda’s return feels like a luxury. With Jose Berrios returning to form and Randy Dobnak and Kenta Maeda starting the year strong, the Twins starting rotation has improved from last season.
Minnesota is still without their go-to starter from last season in Jake Odorizzi, who has been on and off the injured list since the start of the season. However Pineda’s return mitigates his absence in the starting rotation.
With less than three weeks left in the season, Pineda’s pitching can give Rocco Baldelli peace of mind. This also means the Twins will not have to rely on as many bullpen starts. But with Pineda returning to where he left off last year, Baldelli faces a new conundrum: How does Odorizzi fit in when he comes back from injury?