ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees knew that their rotation could be a weak spot to begin the season, but with just three games in the books, manager Joe Girardi is already challenging the starters to provide more distance.
Michael Pineda lasted only 3 2/3 innings in Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. Combined with an ineffective Opening Day start from Masahiro Tanaka and a five-and-fly from CC Sabathia, Girardi has been wearing a path from the dugout to the mound. New York starters have allowed 11 earned runs in 11 1/3 innings (8.74 ERA).
"That's got to change. You knew early on that you weren't going to get a ton of them, but you can't live like that the whole year," Girardi said. "You hope that they can get extended more as time goes on, but we do need some more innings."
The bullpen has been a bright spot, having yet to yield a run in 13 2/3 innings, but the Yankees would have much preferred to get six frames from Pineda. A rough second inning sunk those chances, as Pineda's fastball command eluded him against the bottom of the order.
"I definitely missed on the location in that second inning," Pineda said.
Pineda permitted two hits to open the inning, including Logan Morrison's fly ball to right field that struck the B-ring catwalk and dropped safely in play. After a strikeout, a wild pitch advanced the runners, but Pineda caught a break as Mallex Smith bounced into a fielder's choice at the plate.
Getting that third out has been difficult for Pineda, who permitted a .982 OPS with two outs in 2016.
"It's really not that he loses focus, it's that the tempo changes," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said before the game. "It's almost that he's trying to get it over too quickly instead of just making pitches. I think it's a little misleading to say 'focus.' It's just that the focus has to maintain clearly on what he needs to do to execute."
"It happened again with two outs," Pineda said. "I thought I made a good pitch, but [Dickerson] put it in play where nobody was."
Seventy-one pitches removed from a campaign in which he led American League qualifiers with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings but posted a 4.82 ERA, Pineda has yet to prove that he will be the force that the Yanks need him to be.
"You believe in him, but you've got to get those outs," Girardi said. "Those are the big outs that you have to get."
Following strong springs, Baby Bombers Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird are off to slow starts, combining to go 2-for-26 in the Yankees' first three games. Sanchez is 1-for-14 (.071) after notching a single on Wednesday, while Bird went hitless in four trips to fall to 1-for-12 (.083).
"Obviously we had some success in spring, and now we've gotten off to a slow start, but I think we'll get it figured out and we'll get it right," Bird said. "Gary is a great hitter and puts in a lot of work. We'll get after it and get it right."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.