ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Whatever progress Michael Pineda made in his previous start was wiped out Saturday.
It was bad from Pitch One — actually Pitch Two, to be precise — in a 9-5 loss to the Rays, and it left the Yankees with a question without an easy answer: What now for Pineda?
He entered the game with a 6.34 ERA, but at least he had taken a small step forward with a decent outing six days earlier against the A’s. But he went more than a few steps backward against the Rays as his ERA rose to 6.92, the highest among major-league qualifiers.
Is the 27-year-old, who has options remaining, a candidate to be demoted? Joe Girardi said the Yankees “really haven’t discussed” that. “You always talk about what’s best for your team,” he said. “As of right now, there’s no changes [planned].”
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild addressed the same question. “We’d like to get him through this, but our eyes are open with what goes on to win games, that’s the most important thing for the team,” he said. “So [is his rotation spot] in jeopardy? I don’t know, but certainly we realize what’s gone on.”
Pineda (2-6), who began the game with a 13.00 first-inning ERA, hit the first batter he faced with his second pitch en route to a three-run inning that put the Yankees (23-25) in a 3-0 hole. He would not make it out of the fourth, allowing six runs and nine hits in 3 2⁄3 innings.
All involved say he is healthy, and his consistent mid-to-high-90s fastball velocity suggests that is the case. “I tried to throw the ball down but everything was up,” he said.
When he’s right, Pineda has two put-away pitches with his fastball and especially his slider. Something, however, is amiss.
“It’s tough because when I hear from guys that face him, all they say is how unbelievable this guy is, how good his stuff is,” said Carlos Beltran, a Pineda mentor. “They can’t believe his ERA is so high. The way I see Michael right now, I feel like he’s trying too hard. I think he needs to continue to believe in the stuff he has . . . I think right now he needs to take a step back and go out there and pitch his game.”
Nick Goody and Luis Cessa, who allowed a three-run homer by No. 9 hitter Hank Conger that allowed two inherited runners to score, teamed to make the deficit 9-1 after five innings.
Entering the afternoon, Yankees starters had compiled a 1.72 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in the previous nine games, lasting at least six innings in each.
Tampa Bay lefthander Matt Moore, who entered the game at 1-3 with a 5.47 ERA, allowed three runs and eight hits in 6 2⁄3 innings. He was charged with two runs in the seventh to make it 9-3, one on an RBI single by Austin Romine and one when Enny Romero walked Ronald Torreyes to force in a run. But Romero struck out Alex Rod riguez with the bases loaded to end the threat.
Romero did his part to tighten things up, allowing RBI singles by Didi Gregorius and Romine in the eighth to make it 9-5. But Xavier Cedeno retired Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Hicks on grounders to escape the jam.
The Yankees did have 12 hits, three by Chase Headley and Romine and two by Ellsbury. But the Rays had 13 — three by Conger and two each by Brad Miller, Evan Longoria, Steve Pearce, Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson. Longoria, who entered the game 3-for-22 against Pineda, had four RBIs, two on a home run in the second inning.
“It’s very frustrating for me to start the season this way. It’s never happened to me before and I’m putting the team in a tough spot,” Pineda said. “It’s a tough situation for me right now, but at the same time, I know I have what it takes to pitch at this level. I just have to keep making adjustments.”