For the next 79 games, the Yankees will be on a mission to prove they can actually hit again.
Hitting coach Kevin Long delivered that message after the Yankees continued to find timely hits elusive in a 6-3 loss to the Rays that extended their losing streak to a season-worst five straight games and dropped them under .500.
The Yankees are below .500 after 83 games for the first since 2007. At the time, that team had a .273 average, a .355 on-base percentage, 85 home runs, 437 runs and a 4.42 earned run average.
This year’s team is hitting .251, has a .316 on-base percentage, 71 home runs, 330 runs scored and a 3.99 ERA.
The only regulars hitting anywhere near .300 are Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, who are batting .288. The Yankees feature five guys hitting below .240, including Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, who each went 2-for-4 Wednesday.
“It’s not from lack of effort. It’s just one of those things where we need to extra 80 games for guys to prove themselves and we’re on a mission,” Long said. “Everybody needs to pick it up a little bit, including the Gardners, including the Ellsburys, and these guys that have underperformed they need to pick it up as well.”
Even as Long cited the removal of a toe tap from McCann’s swing and the recent games by Beltran as a positive, the Yankees still lost for the ninth time in 11 games following a four-game winning streak. The last game of that streak came on June 20 when Carlos Beltran hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth against Baltimore closer Zach Britton.
Since that point, the Yankees have lost six games by three runs or less and are getting outscored by a 54-34 margin dropping their run differential to minus-37. Unlike 2007, when the Yankees were 11 1/2 games behind the Red Sox, they’re five games behind the Blue Jays, who won on a ninth-inning three-run home run by Edwin Encarnacion.
“It’s a little surprising,” Long said. “Certainly you expect some of these guys in this lineup to perform and at the end of the day, at the end of the year you hope that those numbers are going to be where they should. I can tell you they’re doing everything in their power to try and correct it and I’m doing everything in my power to try to correct it and we’re just going to stay at it. There’s no simple plan. The work is positive and we’re working in the right direction. It’s just been tough.”
Still it hasn’t reached the point where the staff plans to decide a lineup by throwing names into a hat like Billy Martin once did.
“You certainly can’t yell, scream or do anything like that,” Long said. “It’s more about just staying the course and keep looking at video or working on your swings or doing tee work or doing preps or doing extra [batting practice], all those things you would normally do. Certainly that is something that we really focus on.”
“I still believe in this team,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Obviously people are going to say tell me why because there’s talent in the room. We just need to play better. IT’s a lot of different phases. You can look at almost every phase and say we need to play better and we have to find a way to get it done.”
The lineup did have a slightly different look to it but that was because of Mark Teixeira sat out after having fluid drained from his left knee and Ellsbury had the day off to rest some general soreness.
McCann batted third for the first time and Beltran hit fourth for the eighth time.
McCann had hits in his first two at-bats, including a home run in the third that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead and his showing made him 9-for-41 since a five-RBI night against Toronto two weeks ago.
Beltran had two singles in his first two at-bats, making him seven for his last 31, but he never scored because others couldn’t keep the line moving as the Yankees stranded nine, went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and struck out 10 times.
“I thought we did swing the bats better today,” Girardi said. “Unfortunately we didn’t score enough runs and some of our rallies were a couple of outs and we never got a big hit.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.