On a day where doctors clearing Alex Rodriguez for baseball activities dominated the Yankee headlines, the revelation of Michael Pineda‘s throwing session (via Hardball Talk) could turn out to be the news item baseball fans in New York remember most moving forward.

While A-Rod’s bat can clearly still help the Yankees, Pineda‘s right arm remains a key to their future, as well as an X-factor for their potential success right now.

The 24-year-old right-handed pitcher was acquired prior to the 2012 season to be a cost-controlled mainstay atop the Yankees starting rotation for years. In surrendering catching prospect Jesus Montero, New York cashed in the biggest chip in their farm system for a pitcher already established on the major league level.

After coming into 2012 camp overweight and suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, plans were put on hold for Pineda.

Now, as he rehabs and revs up for his return, his level of strength and performance will become a hot topic among Yankees supporters and detractors.

If Pineda can’t recover the stuff and prowess of his early rookie-season dominance, he’ll be labeled damaged goods and is unlikely to make a major impact on the 2013 or 2014 Yankees.

On the other hand, a fully healthy Pineda can be a major addition to the pitching staff, effectively replacing the below-average innings that Ivan Nova and David Phelps have provided early on. Teamed with a top four of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, the addition of Pineda has the potential to give New York the best rotation in baseball.

Before assessing what Pineda can be moving forward, take a minute to look back at what he was in 2011 before tailing off in the second half of the season.

As one New York team becomes hopeful for his return, the comparisons to a 24-year-old on the other side of town, Matt Harvey, are too obvious to miss.

Dating back to last July, Matt Harvey has provided Met fans with the following numbers, dazzling his way into their hearts: 16 starts, 2.26 ERA, 7-5 W-L, 99.2 innings pitched, 116 strikeouts, .182 batting average against and a .556 opponents OPS.

Now here are Pineda‘s numbers across the first 17 starts of his 2011 rookie campaign in Seattle: 2.58 ERA, 8-5 W-L, 108 innings pitched, 106 strikeouts, .193 batting average against and a .564 opponents OPS.

In short, Harvey and Pineda had almost identical debuts. While the current star of New York is now ticketed for superstardom, Pineda hit a wall around his first All-Star break, finishing the season with an ERA in the high-fours. Within months, he was traded to New York.

While it’s impossible to know how healthy or dominant a pitcher the Yankees could be inserting back into their starting-pitcher mix, the baseline is there. Two years ago, Pineda wasn’t just potential. He was basically Matt Harvey before Matt Harvey.

As further news pours in during Pineda‘s upcoming rehab stint and starts across the minor leagues, keep this in mind: New York needs him.

Aside from the struggles of Nova and Phelps, the Yankees are counting on a rotation that includes 38-year-old Kuroda, 40-year-old Pettite and 32-year-old Sabathia coming off of elbow surgery.

If the healthy, 22-year-old, freshly selected All-Star Michael Pineda was available in the upcoming July trade market, the haul would trump anything else offered, including that of Giancarlo Stanton.

Of course, that’s not the reality of the situation. He’s 24, not 22, rehabbing from shoulder surgery and no lock to ever resume his role as a budding ace.

Yet, if he can find that dominance, New York may again have enough to reach October.

Do you think Michael Pineda will regain his 2011 form?

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