NEW YORK — The New York Yankees will surely wonder what the season might have been like with Michael Pineda in their rotation for the entire year.
Besides enduring the embarrassment of a 10-game suspension for using pine tar in a game against the Boston Red Sox, Pineda missed almost four months with a right shoulder-muscle injury. When he has been on the mound, Pineda (2-2, 2.05 ERA) has been one of the team’s best pitchers. He just has not been there enough.
Pineda allowed one run through the first six innings on Wednesday, but he walked Jason Castro to start the seventh inning, which brought manager Joe Girardi out of the dugout for a pitching change with the Yankees holding a 2-1 lead. The Yankees are being cautious with Pineda, who had thrown just 89 pitches when he was pulled and who missed the entire 2013 season after having surgery on his right rotator cuff.
In a matter of moments, Pineda’s start, and a piece of the Yankees’ playoff hopes, were ruined by relievers David Huff and Esmil Rogers, who combined to allow let in Castro and three runs of their own, sending the Yankees to a 5-2 loss against the Houston Astros (54-73). Rogers, who was charged with two runs, allowed four consecutive hits during the inning.
“I was feeling good; I had good energy,’’ Pineda said about being taken out of the game. “But I don’t have control over that. I wanted to pitch.’’
Girardi said he used Huff and Rogers because Dellin Betances was unavailable and Girardi was saving Shawn Kelley for the eighth inning.
“I couldn’t ask him to give me multiple outs, as much as we’ve used him lately,’’ Girardi said of Kelley, who had pitched in three straight games. “That’s why I went to the guys I went to.’’
The loss, combined with the Detroit Tigers’ 6-0 win against the Tampa Bay Rays, left the Yankees five games back in the race for the second American League wild card spot. As things stand now, the Yankees must overtake four teams (the Tigers, the Seattle Mariners, the Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays) in order to seize that spot. In the AL East race, they are in third place, 9 1/2 games behind Baltimore.
“The bottom line is that we can’t worry about necessarily who is in front of us,’’ Girardi said. “If we don’t play better, we can’t get there.’’
The Yankees (63-61) entered Wednesday’s game having lost six of eight games, averaging just 2.25 runs in that span. They had gotten so desperate for runs that in Wednesday’s game, Jacoby Ellsbury, the team’s third hitter in the lineup, bunted with a runner on third base and two outs with the game tied, 1-1, in the fifth inning.
Ellsbury’s bunt trickled down the third base line, and the Astros’ starting pitcher, Scott Feldman, raced to the ball. Knowing that he would never nab the speedy Ellsbury, Feldman threw to home plate to try to make a play on Ichiro Suzuki. But Suzuki is just as fleet as Ellsbury, and he scored easily to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
But the Yankees could do no more offensively. The Yankees had the tying run at the plate in the ninth, but Ellsbury flied out to end the game.
Girardi’s meek lineup took another hit when Carlos Beltran was scratched after waking up feeling pain in his ailing right elbow.
Girardi said Beltran felt some discomfort after swinging during an at-bat Tuesday. He received a cortisone shot, his third since May, on Wednesday night after being examined by a team doctor.
Beltran, who was found to have a bone spur in the elbow in May, which caused him to miss 21 games, acknowledged that his elbow would not be free of pain until he could have surgery after the season.
The latest setback for Beltran came as a result of a couple of swings he took during Tuesday’s loss to the Astros.
“One was a pitch away, and I reached for it,’’ Beltran said, adding: “I’ve been feeling pain once in a while, but the one I felt yesterday was very sharp. I just felt, talking to the doctor, the previous cortisone probably was wearing out.’’
Beltran will probably be unavailable until Friday, although he is eager to return to the lineup. The Yankees surely could use him.
“We know how important these games are,’’ Beltran said. “But at the end of the day, things aren’t working. It’s frustrating.’’