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Seattle's Pineiro A Starter Again

June 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

SEATTLE – For Joel Pineiro, this has been a season of uncertainty.

He was in the Seattle Mariners' rotation after spring training. Then two days into the season, he was in the bullpen.

Now Pineiro is a starter again, and he says he will do everything possible to stay in the rotation.

"It was funny because out of spring training, they said, `You're the fifth starter, congratulations, everything's set,' " Pineiro said. "And since we had a day off that week they said, `We want to use you out of the pen.' I didn't feel it was so much a challenge. I looked at it more as an opportunity, really. They knew I could start. They knew I could come out of the pen in long relief or short relief.

"So I just looked at it as an opportunity to show myself that I could do any of those slots, whatever they wanted me to be in."

Yet being a starter has made it much easier for Pineiro to plan his workouts. While in the bullpen, he did not know what day to lift hard or when to do extra running, because there was the chance he would pitch the next night.

Early in the season, the Mariners decided Pineiro would be more effective as a reliever because Seattle's fifth starter would only have a handful of outings. It also gave Manager Lou Piniella and the pitching coach Bryan Price the chance to evaluate other young pitchers.

"It was more shock than a mental setback," Pineiro, 23, said of being sent to the bullpen. "I wouldn't say it was tough, but it made me think a little more out there, knowing that I have to be a little bit more aggressive."

The Mariners are trying to figure out if Pineiro's arm will give them a solid No. 3 starter to follow Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer.

Catcher Ben Davis thinks so. He caught Pineiro's fourth victory, a 15-2 Mariners' victory over Toronto on May 16.

"He's a fun guy to catch because sometimes he makes hitters look downright foolish," Davis said. "That kind of brings a smile to my face. That game in Toronto, the umpire behind me in the first inning is like, `Man, this guy's pretty good, huh?' I said, `Yeah, you ain't seen nothing yet.' "

Pineiro, a right-hander, is 4-2, in seven starts. In 53 innings, he has allowed 20 earned runs, 53 hits and three home runs to go with 41 strikeouts and 22 walks. Pineiro started in the Mariners' 11-8 victory over the Baltimore Orioles today, allowing seven earned runs in five innings. His overall E.R.A. is 3.74

"Unless something drastic happens, I don't see him back in the bullpen," Price said. "He's handled it all very well. What he wants to do is contribute to the team. And what he sees himself as is a major league starting pitcher."

As a child, Pineiro, who was born in Puerto Rico, had dreams of being a major league shortstop. He was the starting shortstop on his high school's varsity team as a freshman, then started pitching as a sophomore.

When scouts told him as a senior they wanted to draft him as a pitcher, Pineiro said he wanted to be a shortstop or second baseman. But he gave up when they insisted he pitch.

The Mariners say he has shown an incredible ability to learn and improve. Pineiro spent parts of the past two seasons in Seattle while also playing for Class AAA Tacoma.

"I would have never thought or dreamed it would be like this, this quick," he said. "It's nice. I don't want to say I'm ahead because I don't want to sound cocky, but it's just, I guess, a little extra gift, a little extra effort."

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