Despite Bombers' Overall Struggles, Big Right-Hander Has Been The Goods This Season

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Expect Michael Pineda to be more motivated than usual when he takes the ball for the Yankees on Monday night.

That’s because the hard-throwing right-hander will be facing the Seattle Mariners, the team that traded him away three years ago.

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“It’s going to be nice,” Pineda told the Daily News on Sunday. “I’ve never gone back to Seattle, so I’m happy about this moment. I had a great year there in 2011 and I liked everything there.”

Pineda broke into the majors with the Mariners and immediately made a name for himself due to his velocity and wicked off-speed pitches. He won six of his first nine decisions, pitching to a 2.33 ERA over his first 12 starts and eventually earning himself a spot in the All-Star Game.

His second half wasn’t nearly as good, as he finished 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA overall, but the word was out about Pineda’s skill set, prompting the Yankees to come calling that offseason. They eventually traded catching prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi for Pineda and young right-hander Jose Campos.

But the start to Pineda’s career in pinstripes got off to a very frustrating start as he missed both the 2012 and 2013 seasons due to a labrum tear in his right shoulder that required surgery and lengthy rehab.

He returned last season, but dealt with shoulder and back ailments that limited him to just 13 starts. However, he showed flashes of ace potential, posting a 1.89 ERA in splitting 10 decisions, prompting the Yankees to expect a full breakout season in 2015.

And so far, Pineda has not disappointed, going 6-2 with a 3.36 ERA in 10 starts, including a 16-strikeout performance in a win over Baltimore on May 10 at Yankee Stadium. In his last outing, a 4-2 win over visiting Kansas City on Wednesday, he allowed an earned run while striking out eight over 6 2/3 innings.

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Next up, he’ll face the Mariners and old friend Felix Hernandez, who won the AL Cy Young in 2010 and is one of the elite power pitchers in the game. Pineda, who hails from the Dominican Republic, credited Hernandez with taking him under his wing as a rookie and helping him assimilate into life in North America.

“He’s the King. He’s a great pitcher and I love to see him. I had a great time when I was there, seeing Felix Hernandez pitching. He’s great. He’s unbelievable on the mound,” Pineda said.

Manager Joe Girardi said he hopes Pineda isn’t too amped up because the Yankees (26-25), despite being tied for first place in the AL East, have already lost three of four on this road trip and have dropped 13 of their last 18 overall.

“I’ve always worried about people’s emotions in those situations a little bit,” Girardi said. “Players, I don’t necessarily think they take it personally, but you always want to do better against your old team. I don’t care where you are.”

Pineda went 5-4 with a 2.92 ERA in 12 starts at Safeco Field in 2011.

“It’s a nice ballpark,” Pineda said. “Especially for pitchers.”

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“It’s going to be a great game,” he added. “I want to win it.”