Mariners will have important decisions to make regarding rookie Michael Pineda

It’s been awhile since the Seattle Mariners have had a rookie phenom starting pitcher like Michael Pineda.

Pineda, 22, is off to a supremely impressive start by any account. In four starts, the rookie right-hander is 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 25 1/3 innings. He’s done it against some of the best offensive teams in the American League, with starts against Texas, Toronto and Kansas City so far.

Because a pitcher of Pineda’s caliber comes along so rarely (Hernandez in ’04 being the last for the M’s) and new era baseball has entered in which every pitcher is coddled like a newborn baby, Pineda will have certain limitations on him this season.

For instance, don’t expect him to make 30 starts and throw 200 innings this season. And don’t expect him to pitch any complete games or throw anymore than 110 pitches at any point this season.

The new approach to handling pitchers this day and age will only be exacerbated in Pineda’s case because  his career to date. In 2009, Pineda dealt with a minor shoulder injury that caused him to make just 10 starts and pitch only 47 1/3 innings. Then last year between AA and AAA, Pineda made 25 starts and was shut down after 139 1/3 innings.

So how long will the Mariners allow Pineda to pitch in his rookie season after throwing just 139 innings last year and only 100 or more innings one other time in his career (2008)?

That answer is all speculation at this point as the Mariners would never come out and detail any kind of plan for the handling of Pineda, but rest assured it won’t be much more than the 139 he pitched last season.

Expect an innings total somewhere between 160 – 180. And with the way Pineda has been pitching thus far, that shouldn’t take more than 27-30 starts.

Now the Mariners have already employed the strategy of pushing Pineda back a day or two with off days in their schedule to “protect him” according to pitching coach Carl Willis; unless the team starts skipping him altogether, Pineda should be shut down by late August due to that innings count.

Just something to think about when watching Pineda the rest of this season.

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