Michael Pineda might be Yankees ace in the hole

New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda throws during baseball spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Scott Iskowitz)

The top newcomer to the New York Yankees starting rotation in 2014 might not even be from Japan. 

Instead of frothing at the mouth in welcoming Masahiro Tanaka to Major League Baseball, fans of the Yankees might consider also getting themselves jazzed for the return of Michael Pineda, who hasn't thrown a big-league pitch since he was a 22-year-old rookie in 2011 with the Seattle Mariners. Pineda says his shoulder feels sound for the first time since suffering a torn labrum in spring training in 2012, his first year with the Yankees after coming over in a trade. Via the Associated Press:

"I'm feeling 100 percent right now, and my body is in perfect shape," said a trimmed down 260-pound Pineda. "Everything is in the past. I'm ready to go."

"Everything is in the past" is right, Mr. Pineda. How about some present? Pineda was an All-Star as a rookie, pitching so well in the first half that people were wondering out loud if he already was better than Felix Hernandez. The cart might have been a little before the horse there. But if his shoulder is healthy and he's able to pitch with the same stuff and action as before, the possiblity remains that he'll give a huge boost to the Yankees quest to return to the playoffs. At least Pineda can keep flying under the radar a little bit going into the season, with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Tanaka taking the first three spots of the rotation, and Ivan Nova penciled into the No. 4 spot.

Pineda posted a 3.32 ERA in 10 starts among three levels in the minor leagues in 2013. He allowed 31 hits in 40 2/3 innings and struck out 41. Consider it a rehab assignment, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman  said. He definitely wants Pineda to pitch in the majors, not "in Trenton." If he can't, the Yankees will have to begin regarding Pineda as a bold failure, as a sunk cost, and move on.

No mater what Cashman or anyone else says, it's probable that Pineda will put enough pressure on himself to finally come through for the Yankees. His livelihood depends on it.

Big BLS H/N: CBS Eye on Baseball 

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David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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