Role-reversal: Is Michael Pineda the New Rich Hill?
Image courtesy of © Denny Medley - USA TODAY SportsOriginally Hill was eyeing a June or July return from his modified Tommy John surgery, so he should be all but ready to go once/if the season begins. Pineda still has 39 games of his 60 game suspension left to serve after testing positive for a banned diuretic last season (he served 21 games in 2019). That would have left him set to return in early May, but with the season likely reduced to somewhere in the vicinity of 60 games, Pineda will miss the majority of the season.
The MLB has yet to show any willingness to reduce suspensions to reflect the shortened season and it doesn’t seem like something the Player’s Association will push for either. So instead of missing slightly less than a quarter of a would-be 162 game season, Pineda would be suspended for all but 21 games of a 60 game season.
That would make a best case scenario of just five starts for Pineda. Pineda will have gone more than a full year without pitching in an MLB game and there will be no minor league rehab assignment to help him get stretched out and adjusted. Presumably, he will ramp up against the players from Minnesota’s taxi squad, which is better than nothing, but less than ideal.
With just 60 or so games the race for the AL Central title is likely to remain tight. Plus, in such a short time it seems less likely that the rotation would suffer many injuries. With a rotation of Jose Berrios, Kenta Maeda, Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey, plus Randy Dobnak fighting for a spot, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. Assuming the Twins have five starters that are pitching relatively well, would they want to risk Pineda potentially being rusty in key games down the stretch?
It’s also entirely possible that injuries or ineffectiveness will make the return of Pineda something the team desperately awaits, and if he pitches like he did in the second half of 2019, Pineda’s return would likely be a huge boost to the rotation. A 60-game season obviously brings increased variability but Minnesota still looks like the strongest team in a rather weak central grouping. An expanded postseason gives the Minnesota a good chance of getting in, so it’s possible that the Twins may be positioned well enough that they can comfortably ease Pineda into the rotation without worrying too much about his initial results.
Fortunately Minnesota has a great team with good depth so they are well positioned to succeed regardless of the length of Pineda’s absence. The shortened season gives Minnesota plenty of options to get creative with the pitching staff including piggy-backing, a six-man rotation, or even a four-man rotation if they want to utilize their best arms. Pineda gives the Twins an extra late-season tool to throw in the box.
He might not be the player the Twins envisioned as there late-season addition, but if all goes well Michael Pineda might provide the twilight impact the Twins hoped they were getting in Hill. And like a good body-switch film, maybe Rich Hill can be the steady presence that Minnesota hoped to get in Pineda. I’d watch that movie.
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