ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — No pitcher perplexes the Yankees like Michael Pineda.
The towering 6-7 frame delivering a mid-90s fastball and sweeping slider; strikeout totals typically high, walks low. All of that added up to a 6-12 record with a 4.82 ERA last season, in which the righthander recorded a career-best 207 strikeouts but allowed a career-worst 27 home runs.
“Michael might have left Larry (Rothschild) scratching his head more than anyone else at times,” Girardi said of the pitching coach. “We’ve seen him have 10 strikeouts in five innings and give up four, five runs, and you just say, ‘How did that happen?’ ”
That was a valid question Wednesday night in a 4-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field: too many missed locations, this time with Pineda’s fastball. Pineda, who said he felt good physically, allowed four runs and eight hits in 3 2⁄3 innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out six.
Now the Yankees (1-2), who for the second time here didn’t do much with the bats, head to Baltimore, where a far more powerful lineup than Tampa Bay’s awaits Friday night. And they’ll be sending another inconsistent starter, Luis Severino, to the mound.
In three games the Yankees got a total of 11 1⁄3 innings from their starters.
“That’s got to change,” Girardi said. “You can’t live like that the whole year.”
Rays leadoff man Corey Dickerson teed off on the third pitch he saw, an inviting 94-mph fastball that Pineda left up before it left the park. The Rays scored three runs with two outs in the second to take a 4-1 lead.
“It happened again, two outs,” a frustrated Pineda said of a season-long issue from 2016, when the opposition had a .325/.383/.598 slash line against him in that situation.
The loss wasn’t entirely on Pineda, who is eligible for free agency after the season. The Yankees were held in check by righty Alex Cobb (one run and four hits over 5 2⁄3 innings) and five relievers, going 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird continued their slow starts after scorching spring trainings and are a combined 2-for-26.
“We had some success in spring,” said Bird, his right foot in an ice wrap, the result of a foul ball hit off it in a game last Thursday. “We got off to this slow start but we’ll get it figured out, we’ll get it right.”
As for his foot, Bird said it’s had no impact on him.
“It’s been bruised a little bit, but it’s fine,” he said. “Their pitchers have thrown the ball well. Hats off to them.”
Pineda’s struggles with two outs have become dog-bites-man news. He took the mound in the second with the score tied at 1 thanks to Jacoby Ellsbury’s first homer, a one-out shot in the top half of the inning.
A wild 27-pitch bottom half had a bit of everything. There was a single on a high fly by Logan Morrison that should have been an out except it hit a catwalk overhanging the field; a wild pitch, a runner thrown out at the plate by Chase Headley for the second out; and three straight two-out hits, all on missed fastball locations, that led to three runs against Pineda.
“You believe in him but you’ve got to get those outs,” Girardi said of getting the third out. “Those are the big outs that you have to get.”