NEW YORK -- Michael Pineda has been an enigma throughout his tenure as a Yankee, with some tantalizing moments mixed in alongside a healthy amount of frustration. The latest installment surrounds his first-inning struggles, which promise to keep pitching coach Larry Rothschild searching for answers this week.
Pineda allowed four runs in the first inning on Wednesday, serving up a flat slider that Salvador Perez launched into the left-field seats for a three-run homer before settling down in a 7-3 loss to the Royals.
It was the continuation of a trend that Rothschild finds puzzling. Of the 28 runs that Pineda has allowed this season, 12 have been scored in the first inning, giving Pineda a 15.43 ERA in that frame, and 20 have come in the first two innings (12.86 ERA).
"You look at the strikeouts and things like that, it's just the inconsistencies, and that's where the whole thing comes from," Rothschild said. "He'll throw some really good pitches, and it's not just one pitch. He'll locate some fastballs and then miss with them, and his slider, he'll get swings and misses with it. Then he'll leave some in the middle of the plate."
Rothschild said that most of the damage against Pineda seems to be coming with two outs, suggesting that no tweaks are needed to the right-hander's pregame routine, though it is something the Yankees will consider.
"It's not that it happens quickly; it's that he gets to two outs, and he's made some pretty good pitches getting to that point," Rothschild said. "We may play around with it a little bit and see, but when he leaves the bullpen, he's been pretty much ready to pitch."
Pineda said that after the first inning, he took a more aggressive approach, retiring the side in order in the second and fourth innings. He tired some in the sixth, unable to record the final out as he faced No. 9 hitter Jarrod Dyson, and Pineda wrapped his seven-strikeout, four-walk outing at 114 pitches.
"For me, I know I've been better than that," Pineda said. "The only thing I have control of is to keep working, keeping my head up and pitching -- doing the best on the mound every five days and fighting."
This spring, the Yankees anointed Pineda as their No. 2 starter behind ace Masahiro Tanaka, but the results haven't matched their expectations. Wednesday's loss dropped Pineda to 1-4 with a 6.28 ERA through seven starts, three of which have seen him permit six runs or more.
"He threw the ball so well in Spring Training," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "For Michael, it's been a couple of innings that really give him trouble. The stuff is there. We know that.
"At times, his slider was great tonight, but he made a mistake in the first inning. It had no movement and it was up in the zone, and it turned into a big home run for them. Then he settled in. We've got to get him going, and we've got to get him going early."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.