Seattle Mariners Debut: Michael Pineda vs. Alexi Ogando

Michael Pineda took the hill for the first time in the Majors last night, but he wasn’t the only young, hard-throwing, tall Dominican to make his debut as a Major League starter last night, as he was opposed by Alexi Ogando. The two probably couldn’t have had more contrasting paths to the bigs though.

Ogando spent five years outside of the United States as part of punishment for his involvement in a human trafficking right. He doesn’t appear to be any kind of deviant, rather, married a girl who obtained a visa as a result. He’s pitched less than 75 innings in America, and pitched in a bullpen slot for essentially the entirety of last year in both the Majors and Minors (excluding 3 starts as part of 7 appearances that totaled 15.1 innings in AA ball).

Pineda, by contrast, has been billed as a starter since the beginning, and pitched over 300 innings in that capacity in his three seasons stateside with the Mariners.

But still, the 22-year-old Pineda and the 27-year-old Ogando have essentially the same repertoire, similar physical characteristics, and similar limitations.

This was the first I’d actually seen Pineda, so I can’t make any huge comparisons between today and other times he’s pitched, but with that in mind, I found tonight an interesting comparison.

Both pitchers touched the mid-90s, and generally showed good command with their fastballs. When Ogando missed, he typically missed well out of the strikezone. Pineda did the same but he seemed to keep the leverage on his fastball, while Ogando’s missed locations seemed to be more egregious mechanical errors. Pineda will have a lot of success if he’s able to consistently locate on the outside corner.

Neither really appears to have a dominant breaking ball yet. I saw Ogando’s slider last year, and as it has a more vertical break than Pineda’s, it will likely have a more even platoon split than Pineda’s. Pineda’s slider seems to hang in the air, and didn’t have very sharp break tonight. He located it well at times, throwing backdoor sliders, and swing-and-miss sliders off the plate to righties. It’s entirely possible, though, considering that neither pitch appears to be a strikeout pitch, that Ogando’s superior results were a function of the weak-hitting Mariners lineup he faced, compared to the Rangers lineup that Pineda faced.

Having a change at all seems to set Pineda ahead of Ogando, who didn’t appear to have a third offering. Control on the change was problematic for Pineda tonight, as he doesn’t appear comfortable, or capable of throwing his changeup for what would be a called strike. He does benefit greatly however from a harsh downward plane when he’s able to put it close to the plate. I’d like to see it farther apart in velocity from his fastball, but as it is, it was effective.

There was an expectation going into the season that Pineda would struggle against lefties. There’s no reason to believe that isn’t true after tonight, as three of the four extra base hits off of Pineda came from Josh Hamilton and Mitch Moreland. However, while Michael Young hit a double off of Pineda, his first at bat he crushed a line drive that just happened to end up being directly at Michael Saunders.

Pineda isn’t ready to be a dominant strikeout pitcher right now, and he’ll likely struggle against lefties all year unless his changeup improves, but for a first outing it was pretty promising. Having Ogando there to compare, even though the results were in his favor, was an interesting comparison to be able to make. Pineda is equally, or farther along than Pineda, and at five years younger, fans should be happy he’s the one in Seattle.