Five Rays homers cost Yanks shot at sweep

Michael Pineda endured a nightmare of a first inning Sunday that put a damper on a bright, sunshine day in which the Yankees were shooting for their first series sweep since Aug. 28-30 last year at Atlanta. Instead, they fell back into the cellar of the American League East and hobbled their way to Arlington, Texas, to begin an 11-day, nine-game trip that starts Monday night against a Rangers team that is tied for first place in the AL West.

Five pitches into Sunday’s game before a crowd of 40,931 at Yankee Stadium, Pineda had two outs and nobody on base. He then gave up hits to the next six batters, including two doubles and two home runs, as the aggressive Rays attacked him early in the count to put up a five-spot against which the Yankees brought little resistance in falling, 8-1.

The only positive for Pineda Sunday was that he managed to pitch through the fifth inning, which spared manager Joe Girardi of digging too deep into his already overworked bullpen. Masahiro Tanaka’s seven-inning start Saturday helped, but Girardi knew from the outset Sunday that he did not have Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller available. This game turned out not to be the type in which either of the late-inning shutdown guys works.

Birthday boy Steven Souza celebrated turning 27 with two home runs, a two-run shot in the first and a solo blast in the fifth. Pineda also gave up dingers to Corey Dickerson following a two-out double off the top of the center field wall by Evan Longoria in the first inning and to Steve Pearce leading off the third. Logan Forsythe, who had three hits, joined the home run derby with Tampa Bay’s fifth of the game, a solo shot in the eighth off Nick Goody.

It was also Carlos Beltran’s birthday. The Yankees right fielder turned 39 but did not have as explosive a game as Souza. Beltran was 1-for-4. His first-inning single off eventual winning pitcher Drew Smyly was career hit No. 2,472 for Beltran, who tied Ted Simmons for 10th place among switch hitters. In ninth place at 2,605 is Tim Raines.

The day turned grimmer for the Yankees when Alex Rodriguez, who has driven in their only run with a two-out double in the fourth inning, could not bat when his turn came up again in the sixth. Girardi had to use the left-handed hitting Dustin Ackley as a pinch hitter against the lefty-throwing Smyly (although Ackley singled for his first hit of the season, in his eighth at-bat).

An MRI exam on Rodriguez’s sore left oblique was negative, but the situation shows the dilemma the Yankees are in with Aaron Hicks already out several days because of traumatic bursitis in his left shoulder. The Yanks have proved vulnerable to left-handed pitching. They are 2-5 against left-handed starters and are batting .225 with two home runs overall in 213 at-bats off lefties. Against right-handed pitching, the Yankees are batting .246 with 16 home runs in 358 at-bats.

The Yankees said that A-Rod will make the trip to Texas. But if he cannot play right away, and that is very likely considering how lingering oblique injuries tend to be, and with Hicks out as well, the Yankees lose two right-handed bats. Switch-hitter Nick Swisher, who was released by Atlanta and signed a Triple A contract with the Yankees, is playing for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but is not on the 40-man roster. The Yankees are not believed interested in dropping anyone off the 40-man roster at this time, which limits their options if they make an internal move for outfield and DH help. The best bet for a call-up would be outfielder Ben Gamel, who is hitting .300 with a .368 on-base percentage at SWB but alas bats left-handed.

The Yanks have known along that staying healthy is a challenge to a team with aging players. The upcoming trip that continues to AL East rival stops in Boston and Baltimore could be a major test for them.

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