The Big Lefty and the Big Kid

02/27/2012 3:57 PM ET
By Jon Lane /

Michael Pineda (AP)

Each listed at 6-foot-7, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda would make for ideal challengers to the WWE tag-team championship. Both are imposing figures, with the Big Lefty already an owner of a World Series ring and Cy Young Award, and the Big Kid imported from the Pacific Northwest carrying expectations heavier than the Atlas Mountains.

Yankees hitters Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa saw 25 pitches each from the Colossal Connection for the first time during live batting practice Monday morning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Yeah, it’s February, but position players were facing live pitching for the first time this spring and from all accounts they left the cage shaking their heads and thankful Sabathia and Pineda are on their side.

Quipped Curtis:“It was good, because the sun was up there, and they were kind of blocking it.”

“He’s a monster,” said Nick Swisher of Pineda.

There are no doubts over Sabathia’s ability, only questions lingering about his weight and the amount of mileage on his golden left arm. Pineda is the one working to make his best first impression. Brian Cashman traded his top prospect, Jesus Montero, to bring Pineda to the Bronx as a Plan B to the coveted Felix Hernandez. The Big Kid went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings pitched during his rookie season, but the totals include a 6-2 start with a 2.16 ERA. He’s young (23) and remains far from a finished product.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is working diligently on the development of a reliable changeup, a much-needed weapon to complement his fastball-slider repertoire. And though the price for Pineda was hard, Cashman is viewing the investment as one that if fruitful will benefit the Yankees for the next decade or so.

"He is a young, high-end arm that we look forward to growing into someone who we hope can be a consistent winner for the Yankees going forward,” Cashman said at the dawning of camp. “But there is a gap to close on things. He’s got to develop his changeup. It’s a below average pitch for him right now. I don’t think there’s a No. 1 or 2 starter in the big leagues right now with only two pitches."

Pineda not having to ride shotgun to Sabathia in the rotation (leave that to either Ivan Nova or Hiroki Kuroda) will alleviate some of the pressure. That said, there are fans whose collective hearts were set on watching Montero smash baseballs into the middle of next week. His first poor start – and because he’s human, he will have bad days – will draw the ire of the impatient. And there’s already speculation that handling New York’s gigantic media contingent will be an immediate challenge. His locker was surrounded by reporters after his BP session. Pineda politely requested a few minutes and didn’t return.

The true strength of Pineda’s tolerance will reveal itself over time. For now the Yankees are very happy. Last week during pitchers’ and catchers’ first workout, Pineda dazzled. “You could tell he’s been working on the changeup,” said Russell Martin. “Larry (Rothschild) was saying that he’s changed the grip a little bit, and it’s working. We’ll see how hitters react to it, but from my perspective, it looked like a pretty good pitch. His slider is a plus slider. Everybody knows he’s got a live arm.”

Everyone also knows Pineda’s potential is promising to where it could match that of King Felix, his former Mariners teammate. Last season as a rookie, Pineda held right-handers to a .184 average and his swing-and-miss stuff will help control the number of runs opponents put up at Yankee Stadium, a hitter’s haven.  And on days when he’s not at his best, Pineda can turn to Sabathia and others. The Big Lefty will be quick to assist a young mind to overcome big challenges.

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