Things were bad for the Yankees. Now they are worse.
They lost their fifth game in a row Sunday to fall to 5-10, their slowest 15-game start since 1997. But what made the 4-2 loss to the Rays at Yankee Stadium hurt even more was that their starting pitcher was Gerrit Cole.
Their ace had a strong outing. It was not strong enough to overcome more sloppy defense and tepid run support.
Net result: A three-game sweep by the Rays (8-8) and an early-season crisis for manager Aaron Boone. "Bad series," he said. "Just got to get better — period. I think we all know that."
The Yankees have been outscored 30-14 in their 0-5 stretch since Cole beat the Blue Jays on April 12.
When asked to describe the team’s mood, Cole said, "Well, it’s certainly not happy, you know? It’s not happy."
The Yankees totaled three hits and struck out 10 times, even though for five innings they faced a soft-throwing lefthander named Ryan Yarbrough, who entered the day with a 6.48 ERA. They scored seven runs, had 11 hits and struck out 37 times in the three-game series.
"We’re too talented to play the way we’re playing," DJ LeMahieu said.
The Yankees took the lead in the second inning on a line-drive home run to rightfield by Giancarlo Stanton off Andrew Kittredge, who faced only the first six Yankees.
But the top of the third brought two Rays runs — and more of the shoddy defense that has marked the Yankees’ season.
After Mike Zunino singled, Kevin Kiermaier hit a bloop single in front of Aaron Hicks in centerfield. Boone said Hicks initially misread the ball, thinking he might have to retreat. Because of the uncertainty over whether Hicks would catch it, Zunino froze and should have been forced at second base. But Hicks bobbled the ball, allowing Zunino to advance safely.
Then Yandy Diaz singled to center and Hicks again bobbled the ball, allowing Kiermaier to go from second to third. Hicks was charged with an error.
As a result, when Manuel Margot flied out to leftfield, Kiermaier was in position to score the go-ahead run from third. (On that play, Clint Frazier threw the ball to no one in particular, allowing Diaz to reach second.)
Cole refused to bite when asked about the lapses, instead beating himself up for falling behind on several batters.
"Defense aside, when it’s all said and done, they’re probably answering back with at least one there and my job is to pitch a shutout inning and keep the momentum on our side," he said. "I just wasn’t good enough."
The Yankees tied it in the fifth on LeMahieu’s two-out single to right that drove in Gio Urshela, who had led off with a double.
Cole began the seventh with his 10th strikeout — the 13th straight out he recorded. Then Joey Wendle singled up the middle and Yoshi Tsutsugo doubled to right-center on a changeup to make it 3-2. It was Cole’s 109th and final pitch.
Was a changeup the right pitch selection? "I’m kind of undecided," Cole said. "He loses balance but stayed through the ball. That pitch was the most consistent secondary offering at that point in the game."
Cole gave up five hits in 6 1⁄3 innings, allowed three runs (two earned) and struck out 10 with no walks. His 39 strikeouts are the most through the first four starts of a season in club history.
Wendle homered off Darren O’Day in the ninth to make it 4-2.
Boone said he is pondering lineup changes, but with modern benches so light on alternatives, he is limited in his options.
"We have to swing the bats better — period," he said. "We’ve got our ace on the mound today and just couldn’t mount enough."
Notes & quotes: Boone said Gary Sanchez (bruised fingers) was available if needed . . . Boone said Domingo German probably will start a game against Cleveland this weekend . . . The Yankees have lost 15 of their last 18 regular-season games against the Rays.
The Yankees are mired in a team-wide batting slump. These are the worst offenders and their current droughts:
Aaron Judge: 4 hits, 28 at-bats
Gleyber Torres: 3 hits, 24 at-bats
Giancarlo Stanton: 3 hit, 26 at-bats
Clint Frazier: 1 hit, 24 at-bats
Aaron Hicks: 1 hit,15 at-bats