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Apr 16, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda (35) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Can Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka save Yankees postseason hopes?

Despite a sudden offensive outage the last two games, the New York Yankees starting pitching rotation is about to get some serious reinforcement with the hopes that this would ease some of the pressure off of the Yankees pitching staff, and possibly even off of the Yankees lineup.

With the Yankees at 61-57 following Monday night’s 11-3 loss in Baltimore, putting them seven games back of the first-place Orioles and three games back in the American League Wild Card hunt, news of the potential return of starting right-handers Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka could be the Yanks saving grace going into the home stretch of the season.

Right-hander Michael Pineda is expected to make his first start since April 23 on Wednesday night in Baltimore.



Pineda, who was suspended for 10 games due to the pine tar incident and then suffered a shoulder injury shortly after, should add some much needed power in the Yanks makeshift rotation.



In his first four starts of the season prior to the suspension and injury, Pineda was 2-2 for the Yankees with a 1.83 ERA.  He will fill the fifth spot in the rotation, currently held by Esmil Rogers, who was taking over for David Phelps.

Pineda returns faster than most around the Bombers, or Pineda himself would have thought.  The Yankees originally wanted Pineda to throw 90 pitches in a Triple-A start before returning, however with Phelps landing on the disabled list with elbow tendonitis, an immediate need was created.

“It’s a little surprise,” Pineda said.  “But I’m working hard and I want to do good.”

Pineda threw 72 pitches in 4 1/3 innings for Triple-A Scranton on Friday and threw just under 10 more in the bullpen, putting Girardi at ease about him throwing 85-90 on Wednesday night in Baltimore.

“We wanted to make sure he was ready, that we felt he was ready, that he felt he was ready,” Girardi said.



However, if Pineda’s return is the appetizer the starving Yankees needed to make a legitimate postseason run, then the potential news of Masahiro Tanaka’s imminent return is the main course.

Jul 8, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

While Tanaka could be about a month away from returning to the Yankees rotation, news of his progress from what was a partially torn UCL has been the best news Girardi and company have received.

The 25-year-old rookie ace Tanaka has continued to make progress in his throwing program, making 50 throws from 90 feet on Monday with no pain.  He’ll throw from 120 feet on Tuesday before throwing pitches from flat ground, then off of a mound.

The Yankees don’t have a set schedule for Tanaka to start pitching again, however the news of him throwing pain-free is sweet music to the Yanks ears, so far.

“You want to see his stuff, obviously,” Girardi said.  “Pain-free is the big thing because if he’s pain-free I feel that the stuff will come.”

Before the injury, Tanaka was on-pace to win AL Rookie of the Year honors, and was in the hunt for the AL CY Young.  He kept the Yankees ship afloat, going 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA and 135 strikeouts.  Tanaka started the season going 6-0 in his first eight starts and is still one of the top pitchers in the AL, ranked fifth in ERA, tied for sixth in wins, and still second in complete games (3).

His 3.7 WAR rating is also seventh among American League starters and his strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.105) is still fourth in the AL.

If all continues to go well, Tanaka should return by the first week of September, hopefully with the Yankees in the hunt for the AL East pennant.

While we don’t exactly know how both pitchers will perform coming off their respective injuries, the news of their potential returns sooner rather than later is sweet music to the ear of the Yankees organization and fans alike.

Now they just have to guide this Yankee ship back into the direction of October waters.



Tags: Masahiro Tanaka Michael Pineda MLB New York Yankees

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