The Yankees have done many things right over the course of this streak in which they’ve won seven of eight, but there were two major revelations that stood out on Friday in the opener of the Subway Series.
When he’s on, Michael Pineda can be downright filthy. And Mark Teixeira looks as healthy and productive as he’s been in years.
“We’ve turned it around,” Joe Girardi said after the 6-1 win over the Mets. “We’ve swung the bats well, we’ve pitched extremely well, and I think probably the biggest thing is our defense got to where we thought it would be. You get some come-from-behind wins, and all of a sudden you start to feel good about yourself. You always worry about anxiety at the beginning of the year for players trying to get off to a great start. It’s just not always going to happen.”
There were plenty of causes for concern when the Yanks went 3-6 in their first nine games, but since then, pretty much everything has gone right. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the team was an aging lineup, but the Yankees are now second in the AL in runs scored and third in home runs.
Teixeira, who now has seven in the month of the April for the first time in his career, has been a force from the cleanup spot.
“I’m very thankful for the health, and it is what I envisioned, hitting more home runs and driving the ball,” he said. “Taking that ‘A’ swing that you guys have heard me talk about before – being able to feel strong and healthy, and take my normal swing. And I knew that walks would be the byproduct of that. When you’re driving the ball and hitting home runs, pitchers are more careful.”
The offense has shown positive signs, but the backbone during this recent hot streak has been the pitching staff. They haven’t allowed more than four runs in a game since April 15 in Baltimore, and it seems like the starters are feeding off of each other.
Tonight, Pineda turned in his best start of the young season with nasty stuff and impeccable command.
“We’ve seen so much from Michael since he went through his injury, how many strikes he throws, the development of his changeup, his mechanics have become very sound, he holds runners – he just does a lot of things right,” Girardi said. “I’ve said all along, if we get 30-to-32 starts out of him, I think it will be really good. He also has power, and we’ll see more of that as it warms up.”
• Perhaps most impressive about Pineda’s start (7.2 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 0 BB, 7 K) was the fact that he excelled in cold weather. Of course, this was an issue for him last year when he got caught with a glob of pine tar on his neck, but he seems to have found ways to cope. I can barely type in this weather, so it’s hard to imagine how one would grip a baseball. “I don’t want to think too much about it because I have to pitch in it,” Pineda said. “But it’s hard.”
• Girardi was also impressed. “It just shows you that he’s grown,” he said. “He’s matured. He took a tough situation last year and figured out how to pitch in the cold. It’s not easy. It really isn’t easy. We’ve seen some pitchers struggle with their command on days like today.”
• It’s also worth noting that Pineda’s ball-to-strike ratio was off the charts. Of his 100 pitches, he threw 78 for strikes. As any pitcher will tell you, it’s much easier to get outs when you’re ahead in the count. “Ahead in the count the whole night. It seemed like every hitter he was strike one on almost all night. And he was very efficient because of that and put hitters away early and located extremely well,” Girardi said. “On a night like tonight, it’s extremely impressive. I thought his stuff was excellent from the beginning, and he just carried it almost eight innings.”
• The other big topic of conversation was the development of Pineda’s changeup. He’s always had a plus fastball and a good slider, but the change was extremely effective tonight. I heard CC Sabathia talking in the clubhouse about how he thinks it’s turning into Pineda’s best pitch. “It’s what I’m looking for,” Pineda said. “I’m working hard to get a really good changeup. Last year, it was good, but especially this year, I feel really good on the mound.”
• Here’s what Tex said about Pineda tonight. “Pineda was great,” he said. “If you have starting pitching that can keep you in every single game like they have been, it just makes the job of the fielders and the batters so much easier. And he was just great. You could tell from the first inning that he had his good stuff, and it let us relax at the plate and just go out there and have fun.”
• Teixeira is still only hitting .218, but he’s slugging .673 and leads the team with 17 RBI. He talked in Spring Training about his willingness to concede batting average if it meant driving in more runs, and Girardi is on board with it. “I want the run production,” Girardi said. “The bottom line is how many runs you score. I don’t know how many RBI he has now – 15, 16, 17. You drive in 17 a month, and we still have time and we started late, you’re going to have a pretty good year.”
• Teixeira spoke a lot after the game about how much of a different it’s made that he was able to go through a normal offseason routine and enter the season 100 percent healthy. Clearly, we’re seeing the benefits. “I think it’s definitely helped,” he said. “After the surgery in ’13 and then just really having a tough season last year – feeling like garbage all year, basically – I knew I had to kind of go all-in with the diet and really ramp up everything about my offseason program. It’s paid off.”
• It might not sound like a big deal, but Teixeira really seems to feel that being more conscience of what he eats is helping him on the field. He spoke about how he’s altered his diet. “I went on an anti-inflammatory diet, which anyone that knows nutrition knows that there’s a lot of foods that you can eat that make your body feel worse,” he said. “Coming off of a major surgery and having three sets of cortisone shots in my wrist last year and two in my back, I knew I had to address inflammation. That’s what I did, and it’s allowed my body to feel better, to work out harder. It’s only three weeks of the season, but hopefully it continues for the next six-plus months.”
• Final word goes to Tex, who spoke about the atmosphere for the Subway Series. “We love this series because it’s for the fans,” he said. “Everything that we do is for the fans because that’s who we play for. The Subway Series really gets the fans excited, and we love that. Whether you’re at Yankee Stadium or Citi Field, we really enjoy playing in front of the fans when they’re excited. I give them a lot of credit. It was freezing outside, it was miserable, but they were still cheering and stuck through the whole game.”