Pitch limits, innings caps, and mechanical tweaks are just a few methods teams have tried to prevent elbow and shoulder injuries. What’s clear is that these procedures don’t necessarily work, but the logic behind them is understandable. Even though Joe Girardi has already stated there will be no innings limit on Michael Pineda, his newly anointed fifth starter, expect the Yankees to take precaution.
The Yankees are no strangers to mandating an innings limit on young pitchers. Who could forget the team subjecting Joba Chamberlain to the “Joba Rules” in 2007, and a 160 inning cap in 2009? Along with those guidelines for Chamberlain came intense media and fan scrutiny, perhaps something the Yankees wish to avoid this season with Pineda. The Nationals went through a similar situation with Stephen Strasburg a couple seasons ago, a cloud that remained above the team’s head all year. I’m not saying Pineda will pitch like Strasburg — but it’s plausible the Yankees don’t want to constantly answer questions about any precautions taken.
On the other hand, could the Yankees be serious about letting Pineda loose? Maybe they feel that Pineda’s shoulder could go again at any time, so they might as well get the most out of him as soon as possible. I can understand this argument, but it would be far more logical for the organization to try to extract multiple years out of Pineda rather than allowing him to let it fly for one season.
With the rotation shaping up well, the Yankees can afford to skip Pineda multiple times in 2014. Pineda is scheduled to make his first start in Toronto on April 5, meaning that if they skipped him at every opportunity in the rotation, he would start 22 times. This won’t happen, of course, but it does illustrate that there will be plenty of chances to maneuver the rotation even if the order gets jumbled a few times. If all goes well, I’d expect Pineda to get passed maybe five or six times in the year, giving him 27 starts or so. At six innings a pop, Pineda would sit around 160 innings.
Finishing the season with a clean bill of health and 160 frames under his belt would undoubtedly make 2014 a success for Pineda. It’s a lofty goal for a guy that hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011, but one that does seem attainable. As a fifth starter, the Yankees don’t need Pineda to be a workhorse, so there’s no need to max him out immediately. For now, take what the Yankees are stating about Pineda’s workload with a grain of salt. They’re going to do what they can to avert putting his shoulder under too much stress.