Seattle's strategy in 2006 -- to cap then-20-year-old Felix Hernandez at 200 innings for the entire year, including Spring Training -- worked to the benefit of the franchise. They'll likely soon come up with a similar strategy for 22-year-old Michael Pineda, who has been electrifying in his first four big league starts this season.
Pineda was shut down in late August last year, ending his Minor League season after 139 1/3 innings split between Double- and Triple-A. The Mariners will be discussing the optimal plan for the right-hander, who has touched 99 mph on the radar gun with his fastball while going 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings.
"We'll come up with a number, maybe another month in," Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said. "He's had four starts, and they've been very good starts, but it's early. To this point, he's shown a lot of maturity for a 22-year-old who's experiencing his first big league time here. I think he's handling his emotions well and keeping himself in check. If we see things continuing to go the way they're going, it will allow us to reasonably put a number on it."
Willis also said Pineda will probably be limited to roughly 105 pitches per outing. So far, the most he's thrown in a start is 103. In his last outing, he pitched six scoreless innings against the A's on Friday night and departed after 97 pitches.
"First of all, you're thinking about that any time a pitcher approaches 100 pitches around the fifth or sixth inning. In his case, the other night he had a 30-pitch second inning, which is why that count was as high as it was," Willis said. "It's not always the total number. It's how you get there. If they get there methodically, usually they'll go deeper in the game.
"I'd be surprised if you ever saw Michael throw more than 110, with respect to his youth and what he can bring for the future. It makes sense not to push him really beyond 105, which is kind of my number."
So what will it be, 175 innings? Two hundred, like it was with Hernandez?
"We'll talk about it," Willis said. "Right now, as well as he's pitching, we're trying to utilize the off-days to benefit him, to give him two extra days [between starts], as we were able to do with the first off-day we had, and now he'll get one extra day with this off-day tomorrow.
"Any time he can benefit from the off-day, and someone else doesn't need it more, he'll be the guy we'll look to bump back, just to protect him."