The Minnesota Twins dialed up a pregame tribute video on the scoreboard to remember the three seasons Pineda, nicknamed Big Mike, pitched for their ballclub.
“Just compete and enjoy the game,” Pineda said Tuesday.
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Pineda watched the Twins’ video from the visitor’s dugout with his new teammates and coaches. He matches up against the Twins at 7:40 p.m. Wednesday for the second of three games in the series.
It’s the second start of his Tigers career. He tossed five scoreless innings with two strikeouts in his first outing, an April 21 clash with the New York Yankees, another team Pineda pitched multiple seasons for.
“We always have a plan,” Pineda said. “My number one thing is to try to control my emotions. This is a big thing in the game, especially if you’re a pitcher. You have to control your emotions.
“I’m going to have a lot of emotions. Those are my old teammates, and I have a lot of friends over there. I’m going to face those hitters, so I’m going to have a lot of emotions.”
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For the Twins, Pineda posted a 3.80 ERA across 282 innings from 2019-21. He signed a two-year, $10 million contract in December 2017 and missed the entire 2018 season. That year, he recovered from Tommy John surgery before tearing the meniscus in his right knee.
The Twins and Pineda re-upped in December 2019, agreeing to a two-year, $20 million deal.
“He was really good in this ballpark,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said of Pineda, who boasts a career 4.01 ERA at Target Field. “He was really good for this team. … Anytime you face your former teammates, right away the year after you leave them, there could be a little bit of nerves, a little bit of anxiousness and a little bit of excitement.”
In March, Pineda inked a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Tigers. Detroit hasn’t won a season series against the Twins since 2016, back when Pineda — a nine-year MLB veteran — pitched for the Yankees.
Last season, the Tigers went 8-11 against the Twins. Five games were determined in extra innings and eight games were decided by one run.
The Twins won the American League Central in 2019 and 2020.
“It feels weird because I’ve been teammates with those guys for the last three, four years,” Pineda said. “But right now, it’s a different story. Now I’m a Tiger. I’m not a Twin anymore. I’m going to control my emotions and try to win the game.”
In Tuesday’s series opener, the Tigers lost, 5-4, and wasted a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. Catcher Eric Haase made a throwing error on a single that loaded the bases, allowing the Twins to easily score two runs.
The Twins pace the AL Central with a 9-8 record, while the Tigers are tied with the Chicago White Sox for last place at 6-10 overall. The Cleveland Guardians and Kansas City Royals sit between them at 7-10 and 6-9, respectively.
“It’s a great lineup,” Pineda said. “But I have a great lineup, too. It’ll be a good game.”
Center fielder Byron Buxton has carried Minnesota, hitting .317 with six home runs and 11 RBIs in 11 games. Pineda’s old squad also features a new face in Carlos Correa, one of the best shortstops in baseball.
“He’s a superstar player,” Pineda said of Buxton. “Everybody knows that. If this guy wasn’t hurt all year, he would have put up phenomenal numbers. He’s over there, so I have to face him.
“He’s a great player, and I know that. But I want to execute my pitches and try to get him out. It doesn’t matter how good you are. I’ll try to execute my pitches, and if I can get weak contact, I can get him out.”