PHOENIX -- It has become a running joke among the Yankees beat writers: Whenever there is a question about pitching, it is practically a guarantee that manager Joe Girardi will delegate the response to his pitching coach, Larry Rothschild.
In fact, so much does Girardi depend on Rothschild that "I'll have to ask Larry" is a refrain and a punch line to just about any question on any subject involving the New York Yankees.
So it made perfect sense that after Michael Pineda turned in yet another horrendous performance in the Yankees' 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night -- five innings pitched, nine hits, five earned runs -- there was only one thing to do.
The broad question, of course, was how can one pitcher be so good, recording nine strikeouts, and so bad in the same outing? The more in-depth queries involved Pineda's inability to lock down innings, his repeated failure to put hitters away, and the precipitous decline in his performance since his transcendent 16-strikeout performance against the Baltimore Orioles a little more than year ago.
And Larry, whose natural reticence causes him to rarely speak to the media, was refreshingly candid on every subject. But candid does not necessarily mean enlightening, and it became clear that even the highly respected Rothschild had no easy answers to what has ailed Pineda for the bulk of his past 28 starts.
"I've never had a pitcher who, when the counts get in his favor, the swing-and-miss rate goes down," Rothschild said. "It's kind of hard to figure out."
The two most glaring examples were a second-inning at-bat by Nick Ahmed and a third-inning at-bat by Paul Goldschmidt. Both fell behind -- 0-2 and 1-2, respectively -- and both were the beneficiaries of hanging sliders that, even viewed from the press box, were clearly going to be spanked.
"When he gets two strikes on a hitter, it's like he stops thinking that what he's done so far to get to that point is going to be good enough," Rothschild said. "Instead of trusting his stuff, he's getting out in front of it, overthrowing it, and the ball just ends up spinning."
Rothschild said both sliders to Ahmed and Goldschmidt were intended to be thrown in the dirt.
"I think he's trying to do that, but the adjustments just aren't being made," Rothschild said.
Rothschild also pointed to a decline in the quality of Pineda's stuff when he works out of the stretch.
"We need to fix that as quick as we can," he said.
Rothschild said he was aware of Pineda's dropoff since his 16-strikeout game last May 10, but Rothschild said, "I think that game was the outlier, not the ones that followed it."
He did, however, admit that the regression in Pineda since that day was indeed remarkable.
"I've seen it, but I have no rational explanation for it," Rothschild said.
Still, Rothschild maintains that fixing Pineda would not be as difficult as it appears.
"We’ve done it in the past, so I think it won’t be all that problematic," he said, "But we just need to get it done, for his own benefit and especially for the team."
But the man Girardi and his pitching staff rely on so heavily is not immune to the impatience of a fan.
"It would be easy to sit here and say things are going to turn and it’s going to change, but it’s just been too long," Rothschild said. "We’re almost a quarter of the way through his starts, so we need this to straighten out. We need to end this right now."
Now all he has to do is figure out how.