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Big League Stew

Big Michael Pineda makes pitch for Mariners rotation spot

Big League Stew

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PEORIA, Ariz. — Wednesday night's game between the Seattle Mariners and Milwaukee Brewers at the Peoria Sports Complex presented a special treat: The chance to watch Mariners rookie Michael Pineda start a game as he continued his quest to become the team's fifth starter this season.

With Nate Robertson on the mend after recent elbow surgery, the spot is now thought to be Pineda's to lose. He's a big 22-year-old right-hander out of the Dominican Republic — he officially stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 260 pounds — and he was just ranked the second-best prospect in Seattle's organization by Baseball America,  just behind infielder Dustin Ackley. Pineda's fastball clocks in the mid-90s and scouts are high on the potential of his slider. Manager Eric Wedge says he really likes Pineda's secondary pitches.

So how did he do?

Well, let's just say that I won't be telling my grandkids about a beautiful desert night and seeing Michael Pineda blow away batters the first time I saw him pitch. {YSP:MORE}

Pineda pitched four innings against Milwaukee, and he was about what you'd expect from a young kid whose skills are still described as "raw." He allowed seven hits and three runs (two of them earned) over his appearance. The leadoff batter reached base in all four innings, and Rickie Weeks smacked three doubles, including two of the leadoff variety, off of him. George Kottaras, meanwhile, led off the fourth with a triple.

On the bright side, Pineda struck out Ryan Braun twice, induced a double-play ball from Mat Gamel that got him out of trouble in the second inning, and got Yuniesky Betancourt to ground out to third base, second base and shortstop. (OK, so maybe that last one wasn't much of an achievement.)

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Afterward, Pineda said he struggled with the location of his pitches — his fastballs were too high, he said — and he wasn't pleased with how his changeup started. Still, with a spring training line of 11 innings, a 3.27 ERA, eight strikeouts and four walks, there is reason for the Mariners to be OK with handing him a major league roster spot.

"Yeah, I'm thinking about [making the big leagues]," Pineda said in the Mariners clubhouse afterward. "I don't know what will happen, but I think about it ... I'm working hard every day."

"Working hard every day." That was a touchstone phrase used often by Pineda, something that he's comfortable with repeating as he gets a better grasp of speaking English. He  takes Rosetta Stone computer classes that the Mariners give their Spanish-speaking players, and he proudly insists on conducting his media sessions in English with little or no help from a translator. He did a great job on Wednesday, further describing his pitches by moving his hands and politely asking reporters to repeat the question if he didn't understand it the first time around. I came away liking him and hoping that he puts together a successful season.

Bottom line: Though the Mariners' hopes in 2011 aren't anything to write home about, the possibility of seeing Pineda develop into a starter they can handcuff with Felix Hernandez atop the rotation is an attractive storyline.

What he does with those innings — however many they may be — remains to be seen.

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