MINNEAPOLIS — Michael Pineda is hard to miss, even when he’s not throwing 95 mph fastballs. The Minnesota Twins won’t witness any of those heaters for a while, but they’re still pleased to have the 6-foot-7 right-hander in-house until he’s ready.
Pineda was introduced to his new fans at Twins Fest on Saturday after agreeing to a $10 million, two-year deal last month, though he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery and is unlikely to pitch again until at least late this season.
Indeed, Minnesota’s first major move this winter was mostly about 2019.
“It’s very hard for me,” Pineda said, adding that “I feel way better right now because now I have my team and they believe me.”
Minnesota chief baseball officer Derek Falvey believed enough in the Dominican righty to invest a year of recovery for a payoff down the road.
Pineda said he threw for the first time since surgery on Thursday, the day before heading to Minnesota, where he donned a Twins jersey for the first time and was introduced to teammates and fans.
The big step for Pineda included 30 throws from 60 feet.
“Feel pretty good,” Pineda said. “It’s a long process, but it feels great when you pick up the ball throwing for the first time.”
The former Yankee underwent ligament replacement surgery in his throwing elbow in July. Pineda and the Twins hope he might return later this season.
“If we’re in a good position on the field and his rehab goes well, it’s a nice potential option to have in late August going into September if there’s a big arm that you can bring out of the bullpen,” Falvey said. “I don’t anticipate he’d be a starting option this year for us at any point.”
Pineda, who missed the 2012 and 2013 seasons after shoulder surgery, understands the wait and process of recovery.
“Between there, it’s a lot of things happen, so you never know,” Pineda said. “I want to just prepare and work hard for go back as soon as I can.”
Pineda was an All-Star as a rookie for the Seattle Mariners in 2011, showing signs of immense potential with a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings as a 22-year-old. He was traded to New York in the offseason but didn’t pitch in pinstripes until 2014 because of his shoulder.
His only full season was in 2016, when he made a career-high 32 starts, but he was 6-12 with a career-high 4.82 ERA.
Pineda was on the way to perhaps his best season last year before the elbow injury. He was 8-4 with a 4.39 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings.
“I started the season pitching good and everything was good,” Pineda said. “It was one moment it’s fine and … broken a ligament, so we don’t have control for that. I feel bad, but it’s the baseball game.”