Girardi: 'We need to play better baseball'

What was once a 10-game American League East lead has dwindled to two.

But despite playing their worst baseball of the season recently, the Yankees aren’t ready to push the panic button.

“We need to play better baseball,” manager Joe Girardi said following his team’s 8-3 loss to the second-place Orioles on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. “I’m asked every day what my level of concern is. The concern is that you play better baseball, not where you are in the standings right now. Because we’re still in control of our destination. We need to play better. Offensively, defensively, pitching, all things involved.”

Since July 18, when their division lead swelled to double digits, the Yankees are 19-23. In their past 16 games, they’ve been outscored 77-57; over that stretch, they’ve compiled a .226 team batting average and a 4.31 ERA.

“With you guys all I hear is concern this, concern that,” Nick Swisher said. “Nobody’s concerned in here, guys. We’re two games up at the beginning of September. If you told me that in spring training, I’d buy into that. There’s no concern over here. We’re not disappointed. We do know we need to play better.”

Ravaged by injuries, most notably to proven run producers Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees have been looking to others to step up. They haven’t.

This week alone, Girardi penciled Steve Pearce, Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez into the cleanup spot. Russell Martin, who is stuck on the wrong side of the Mendoza Line, has been hitting in the middle of the order.

“It doesn’t make a difference,” Derek Jeter said. “We can’t complain about injuries and feel sorry about ourselves. It’s happened to every team in our division at some point. We have to find ways to win games.”

The Yankees will have a chance to do just that on a 10-game road trip with stops in Tampa, Baltimore and Boston. They’ve beaten the Rays just once at Tropicana Field in six tries this season. But with CC Sabathia, Freddy Garcia and Hiroki Kuroda lined up to pitch in the three-game series, the Yankees like their chances.

Plus, A-Rod is expected to return to the lineup on Monday afternoon after missing 36 games with a fractured left hand.

“It’s exciting for us,” Swisher said. “There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. We’re pretty much going out there half staff right now. So when we get our boys back, hopefully sooner than later, we’ll get right back on a roll.”

With a month to go in the season, Jeter remains optimistic.

“Every team in our division wishes they were in the position we’re in right now,” the Yankees' captain said.

Now, it’s just a matter of getting healthy and holding on.