BY John Hickey 11:11PM 04/12/2011

Pineda dominates on way to first win

Rookie right-hander has teammates laughing with him after holding down the Blue Jays in powerful style.

Michael Pineda was in dominating form against Toronto Tuesday night. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Ryan Langerhans looked at Michael Pineda and laughed.

Chone Figgins looked at Michael Pineda and laughed.

Both men were laughing with Pineda, not at him.

“Are you serious about that guy?’’ Langerhans said, asking a question of no one in particular in the wake of Seattle’s 3-2 win over Toronto Tuesday.

Langerhans hit the two-run third-inning homer that put the Mariners ahead to stay, but he didn’t want to talk about that, or the fact that he leads the Mariners in homers (three) and is tied for the lead in RBIs (five).

“He’s throwing 97, 98 (mph) and he isn’t even using the middle of the plate,” Langerhans said, shaking his head. “It’s good for us to win this one, but this one was all about the big guy on the hill.

“He’s throwing the ball hard, but usually guys who do that are in the middle of the plate. He’s not. He’s on the corners all the time. That’s tough to do.’’

Figgins didn’t play in this one. The Mariner third baseman sat out for the first time this year after suffering a bruised left wrist, courtesy of a sharp line drive in the early stages of Monday’s 8-7 win. Figgins will give the wrist a test Wednesday morning with the hope that he’ll be able to play, but the darkness of the bruising suggests he may need another day or two.

“Have you looked at Pineda?’’ Figgins said in a post-game conversation with Sportspressnw.com. “He’s got the same thing. And he pitched into the eighth inning. It was a something.’’

Pineda didn’t bring up his wrist injury until prompted, and said it hurt, “but it is the (left) hand, so it didn’t stop me from pitching.’’

Just in looking at Pineda you get the immediate impression that he’s all but immune to bruising and injury. His size is immediately evident at 6 foot 7 and 250 pounds. He has shoulders the approximate size of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

What the first glimpse doesn’t show you is the command of the strike zone he has and the quick pace with which he delivers pitches. Pineda, the first rookie in a dozen years to open the season in the Mariners’ starting rotation, could develop into a dominator.

He was dominating Tuesday. For seven innings, Pineda had a three-hit shutout and a 3-0 lead. Manager Eric Wedge let Pineda go back out for the top of the eighth because “he’d earned it,’’ and it was only then that the Blue Jays, who rank in the top four in the American League in batting average, runs scored, total bases and walks, were able to do any damage.

After pitching out of a two-on, none-out jam in the fourth with two strikeouts and a pop fly, Pineda wasn’t in trouble again until the eighth, when a leadoff single by Edwin Encarnacion and a one-out walk to Yunel Escobar brought Corey Patterson to the plate as the tying run.

Things got worse on the first pitch to Patterson when catcher Miguel Olivo had the ball kick off his glove for a passed ball, putting runners on second and third. Patterson swatted Pineda’s next pitch for a two-run single, ending Pineda’s night.

When Patterson stole second and took third on an Olivo throwing error, it seemed as if the Mariners defense was going to cave on Pineda, who at this point was out of the game in favor of reliever Chris Ray.

Instead first baseman Justin Smoak ranged far into foul terrain behind first base to make a running catch of a Bautista popup. He then gunned a throw to Olivo who caught the ball and had enough time that Patterson didn’t even bother to slide. He crashed into Olivo to try and jar the ball loose, but his heart wasn’t in it.

“That was a great play by Smokey,’’ Ichiro Suzuki said.

The right fielder had one of the best views in the park.

“I don’t know how difficult a catch it was, because I’ve never been a first baseman, but Patterson can run. You don’t tag up on that play if you can’t run, and he’s got real speed.’’

Pineda, by this time sitting on the bench and cheering, could appreciate the play as much as anyone. It made him a winner in his debut game in Safeco Field, and his first big league win was worth a raucous beer shower in the clubhouse after the game.

“I’m really excited,’’ Pineda said. “In the eighth inning I got into a little trouble, but with that double play, I’m thinking ‘Yes!’ That was a pretty good double play.’’

If Luis Rodriguez’s game-winning hit from Monday night was the best offensive work by a Mariner this year, then Smoak’s catch-and-throw has to stand as the best defensive work, given its importance to the game.

Seattle won back-to-back games after a seven-game losing streak and has a chance to complete a series sweep Wednesday afternoon.

Pineda wound up throwing 103 pitches, about three-quarters of them (74) strikes. He allowed five hits, two walks and two runs (one earned). He’s only made two big league starts, but both have come against some of the better hitters in the American League in Toronto and Texas, and he’s more than held his own both times.

“He’s aggressive and he trusts his stuff,’’ Wedge said. “He did everything he could to give us a chance to win.’’

And that, at least, is no laughing matter.

Twitter: @JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • Sam Chowder

    If Pineda hasn’t reached his potential yet, then his potential really is the proverbial “unlimited”. Pineda looks like he’s been in the league 3 years and he makes hitters look like they’ve been in the league 3 days. This is not a AAA pitcher (for the people who thought he should start this year in Tacoma). This is a future 5-star superstar. And he’s sitting at 4 1/2 stars right now. And moving fast.

  • Brett Burton

    Woah, you’re getting way ahead of yourself.  Sark has never indicated that USC is his dream job.  The scholarship limitations are going to kill that program for the next 5-8 years, and by the time USC would come calling Sark should have UW rolling with a new stadium and football operations building.  He would be foolish to leave for that job, and I highly doubt he will.