ST. PETERSBURG -- Once again, too many of Michael Pineda's pitches wandered toward the middle of home plate on Saturday afternoon, and that recurring trend has the Yankees wondering if he really will be able to fix the problem at the Major League level.
Pineda was pounded for six runs and nine hits in just 3 2/3 innings, taking the loss as the Yankees lost, 9-5, to the Rays at Tropicana Field. Through 10 starts, Pineda's 6.92 ERA is the worst of any qualified big league starter, and the Yanks' patience seems to be wearing thin.
"We'd like to get him through this, but our eyes are open to what goes on," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "To win games, that's the most important thing to the team. [Is Pineda's spot] in jeopardy? I don't know, but certainly we realize what's gone on."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the club has not discussed removing Pineda from the rotation, but general manager Brian Cashman has confirmed that Pineda can be optioned to the Minors, should they choose to do so.
"When I hear from guys that face him, all they say is how unbelievable this guy is and how good of stuff he has," Carlos Beltran said. "They just 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 just continue to believe in the stuff that he has.
"Every time I hear something from a player from an opposing team, I let him know, 'This is how people think about you.' As a hitter, you go through slumps, and you maybe stop believing a little bit. I think right now, he needs to take a step back, just go out there and pitch his game."
Pineda has allowed six runs or more in four of 10 starts this season. Tampa Bay pounced on him early Saturday, peppering him for three runs and four hits in the first inning before Evan Longoria smashed a long two-run homer to left-center field in the second inning.
"It's a tough situation right now for me," Pineda said. "But at the same time, I know that I have what it takes to pitch at this level. I just have to keep making adjustments, talk with my pitching coach and make the adjustments."
Longoria's run-scoring single off Pineda in the fourth inning chased the hurler, who said that he does feel healthy. His velocity readings did not suggest a physical issue to Girardi or Rothschild, who believes that Pineda may simply be overthrowing.
"Today, he left a lot of balls in the middle of the plate, fastballs and some breaking balls," Rothschild said. "The last game in Oakland, he was better, but we need to get this done, and hopefully in a hurry."
Rothschild said this case is among the more baffling he has experienced, and the Yankees are not flush with alternatives -- another reminder of how Bryan Mitchell's freak spring injury continues to have a ripple effect.
Luis Cessa worked four innings of long relief on Saturday and could be considered to jump into the rotation, though he surrendered a three-run homer to light-hitting Hank Conger.
Chad Green has been the best starter at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he lasted just four innings in his big league debut on May 16 against the D-backs. Pineda said that he can't think about losing his job.
"That's a decision that's out of my hands," Pineda said. "My job is to be ready and give the best I've got."
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.