Torre, Stottlemyre respond to The Boss

Torre, Stottlemyre respond to The Boss

NEW YORK -- The Yankees entered the 2005 season with high hopes for their retooled pitching staff, but things haven't worked out quite as they had planned through the first 29 games.

The starting rotation -- Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Mike Mussina, Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown -- has struggled to find consistency, and injuries to Wright and Johnson have forced the club to use two rookie starters before May 3 for the first time since 1944.

With little to show thus far for his $200 million investment, George Steinbrenner spoke out in Friday's edition of USA Today, calling on his players -- and coaches -- to right the ship before it's too late.

"I am concerned, because time is getting shorter as each day goes by," Steinbrenner told the newspaper. "We've got to get better, that's for sure. It's never too early. Pitching is my main concern.

"Joe Torre doesn't attach much importance to Spring Training, but now this is in his lap and [general manager] Brian Cashman's lap," added the Boss. "They've got to perform, and the coaches have to perform.

"We're just not getting the pitching. I don't know whether we have to think of some changes there, or what."

Steinbrenner's words seemed to be directed at pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, whose job could be in jeopardy if the Yankees' pitchers don't turn things around.

Stottlemyre chose not to say much regarding Steinbrenner's comments, saying simply that he was working hard to find an answer to the Yankees' recent woes.

"I have to take it right now. We're not pitching well," Stottlemyre said. "I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. I wasn't aware that he made those comments, but he's entitled to it. ... I've got so many other things to think of, the last thing I need to think of is my security. I have to figure out how we can get guys out, get back to where we should be."

For Torre, this isn't the first time he has heard Steinbrenner criticize his coaching staff. This time, though, the manager felt the insinuation that Stottlemyre was to blame for the pitching staff's struggles was unfair, especially given that two rookies -- Chien-Ming Wang and Sean Henn -- made their big-league debuts for the Bombers in the past week.

"I think it's very unfair to lay this at the feet of Mel Stottlemyre," said Torre. "You'd hate to think you'd blame a guy who has given his body and soul to this organization, who has sat here in good times and bad and been an upright, upstanding gentleman.

"I'm the one that's responsible for Mel," Torre added. "If we don't get a well-pitched game from two kids, to blame the pitching coach for not straightening it out, I don't think that's fair. George is obviously impatient -- and I don't blame him. We're certainly not living up to what we're supposed to be and what he needs for us to be."

New York's starting pitchers have gone 8-14 with a 5.54 ERA through the first 29 games this season, numbers far below what was expected. Torre refuses to place the blame on Stottlemyre, repeatedly talking about last season, when the pitching coach helped a patchwork staff win 101 games.

"He hasn't lost a step as far as I'm concerned," Torre said. "If you're going to give anybody the blame, I'm the captain of the ship. I'm the one that's really responsible for everything."

Stottlemyre said that he isn't concerned about losing his job, especially when you consider that he has toyed with the idea of retirement in each of the past two winters. Stottlemyre, 63, has also said that the 2005 season would be his last.

"I've never had that fear, from the first year on," he said in regard to being fired. "Anybody who comes here and has that fear doesn't belong here. I've been here longer than maybe I should have stayed in some people's eyes, but I never worry about that. You can't worry about that and do your job."

"Right now, we're not pitching up to our potential, but I'm not sure that Mel is sleeping any later in the morning than he normally did, that he's not spending enough time here," Torre said. "I know George has to be frustrated and disappointed, and I certainly agree with him in that regard."

Like Stottlemyre, Torre isn't worried about the possibility of being fired, saying that he will continue to manage as he has during his 10 seasons in pinstripes.

"If that's part of what you're thinking, it's going to affect what you do here. That's not right," Torre said. "If I get caught up in trying to make other people happy with what I do, then I'm not doing what I think I should do. I'd hate to get fired for doing what someone else thinks I should have done. If I'm going to get fired, I want to get fired on my own merit -- and it's happened three times."

As much as the Yankees have underachieved during the first five weeks of the season, Steinbrenner did say that he believed his club could turn things around.

"I think we have a great team, and they'll start pulling together once the pitching goes, then they'll all go," Steinbrenner said. "As Joe Torre says, pitching wins it. Pitching is important. We've got to have it."

If they don't, it could be a long season for the Yankees -- and perhaps a short one for Stottlemyre.

"I'm searching for answers," Stottlemyre said. "All we can do is continue to do our work, hope that the hard work will overcome the thoughts people have now about our staff. ... I certainly haven't given up on our guys."

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.