Pineda delivers in his first stint with Mariners

Pineda delivers in his first stint with Mariners

Pineda delivers in his first stint with Mariners
SEATTLE -- Michael Pineda headed home last weekend, back to the Dominican Republic for the first time since his rookie journey that took him from a Mariners prospect to an All-Star and back to reality over a six-month span.

But Pineda left his mark on the Mariners, the kind of imprint you might expect from a 6-foot-7, 260-pound youngster. And he'll return next spring as an integral part of manager Eric Wedge's rotation and the franchise's future.

Pineda, 22, finished his first season with a 9-10 record that wasn't a true indicator of the impressiveness of his initial campaign. Though the Mariners cut back his work load in the final two months to preserve his arm, he led all American League rookie starters in strikeouts (173), was second in innings pitched (171) and fourth in ERA (3.74).

Without question, Pineda learned a great deal in his first big league grind. And the Mariners learned something, too, including the welcome fact that the big man is a driven, hard-working sort who often could be seen running on the field or up stadium stairs before many of his teammates arrived at the park in the early afternoons.

"It's a long season, but I worked hard every day for my body and everything," Pineda said. "I felt good and strong because I want to help my team win and get in the playoffs. Next year I want to pitch in October in the playoffs."

Even with just seven starts spread over the final two months, his 171 innings well exceeded the 139 1/3 that had been his career high in the Minor Leagues a year earlier.

His statistics stacked up against the best in the league in many categories, not just in rookie rankings. He finished second in the American League behind Toronto's Brandon Morrow in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (9.11) and was fourth in opponent's batting average (.210), trailing only Justin Verlander, Jeremy Hellickson and Josh Beckett.

His WHIP (walks and hits per inning) of 1.10 was eighth in the league behind Verlander, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Beckett, James Shields, Doug Fister and Josh Tomlin.

Those are impressive numbers for any pitcher and hint at the power and potential lurking in the youngster's right arm. And it's worth remembering that Pineda was processing both a new language and culture, along with a new league this past season.

In Spring Training and after his early-season games, he gamely attempted to do interviews in English, but was largely limited and fell back frequently on shoulder shrugs and saying "I'm working" when he didn't understand.

But by season's end, Pineda was able to conduct conversations and interviews with far greater ease, a testament to the time and energy directed toward that endeavor as well.

"I learned a lot," he said. "It's very different, this level to the Minor Leagues. It's very different. I know my English isn't very good, but I'm learning a little more all the time. I'm speaking pretty good. I like it."

As for on the mound? The lessons there were even larger, given the competition thrown his way every fifth or sixth day. And as the year progressed, Pineda learned he couldn't always depend on his 95-98 mph fastball.

His challenge is to improve his changeup to work off that heater, as well as continue learning how to spot his pitches for maximum effectiveness.

"Here, not every pitcher throws hard," Pineda said. "It's good to throw hard. If you throw 98 [mph] up, it's good. But 93 in the corner is better."

Pineda said he would have liked to throw winter ball, but not surprisingly, that wasn't in the Mariners' plans after they worked him cautiously through his first full season in the Majors.

"I'll go to the Dominican and stay with my family," he said. "I'll be working to get ready for next season, resting my arm. I've never thrown winter ball. Never. I want to pitch in my city in the Dominican, but maybe later. I threw a lot of innings this year."

While his performance became a little more erratic in the closing weeks when his starts became sporadic, he had no qualms with how Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis managed his final months.

"I appreciate it because, wow, I'm very excited about all this," Pineda said. "I want to take care of my arm. It's good."

So, though he didn't gain that elusive 10th victory after going 0-3 in his final seven starts, thanks in part to some tough luck and lack of support, he left no doubt as to how he judged his own rookie year.

"In April I just wanted to pitch a good game because I wanted to stay here. I didn't want to go to the Minor Leagues again," Pineda said. "So now, I think I had a great, great season. I think I finished strong. I'm proud of me."

And best of all, he left room for growth, which isn't an easy thing for a youngster who already is the biggest man on his big league club.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.