NYY@LAA: Wells cuts down Pujols at the plate

NEW YORK -- With a runner on second and one out in the fifth inning of the first game of the Yankees' doubleheader with the Dodgers on Wednesday, Vernon Wells stood in the on-deck circle, waiting to hit behind Robinson Cano.

Four pitches later -- an intentional walk to Cano -- Wells dug into the batter's box with a chance to break open the game. But Los Angeles' Hyun-Jin Ryu got him swinging, and he trudged back to the dugout like he has so often during this prolonged slump.

Any protection Wells provided Cano during the first month of the season has vanished. Teams can be careful with Cano without any fear of Wells making them pay.

"I think it shows just how bad I've gone lately," Wells said. "It's pretty plain and simple."

An 0-for-7 day on Wednesday dragged Wells further into his slump. After batting .300 in April, he hit just .181 in the almost two months since before going 0-for-3 in Thursday's series opener.

But manager Joe Girardi hasn't wavered with his commitment. He's started the veteran outfielder in 15 of the team's 17 games in June and had him starting in left field and batting fifth on Thursday.

"We believe in Vern," Girardi said. "Will I give him a day off here and there? Yeah, but I've done that all year long. But we still believe that he can get it done."

Girardi said that most of Wells' struggles have simply come from timing, though he's been chasing pitches, too. He took an ugly swing at a pitch way out of the zone to strike out in the at-bat following the intentional walk to Cano on Wednesday.

Wells spent Thursday morning working with hitting coach Kevin Long, watching film and hitting against a machine. The film revealed that he's been keeping his hands a bit too far from his body.

"That's the beauty of this game," Wells said. "You're a hair off, and it can be pretty bad."

The machine helps Wells keep his swing short. He said that the device, which throws as hard as any there is, dominated him to start the day, but he shortened his swing and improved.

He appreciates that Girardi has stuck with him. Now, armed with a shorter swing, he can reward his manager for his faith.

"I've got to repay him for that," Wells said, "and that's what I plan on doing."

Girardi thinks defense when crafting lineup behind Pettitte

NYY@LAA: Nix nabs Kendrick for force at third

NEW YORK -- Manager Joe Girardi made a change to his lineup on Thursday, but it was because of who was on the mound for the Yankees, not the Rays.

Girardi started Jayson Nix at third base instead of David Adams, and inserted the left-handed-hitting Reid Brignac at shortstop. Nix typically platoons with Brignac, who's hitless in his last 17 at-bats, at short.

But with Andy Pettitte pitching, and despite Tampa Bay starting lefty Matt Moore, Girardi wanted what he feels is his best defense, since Pettitte induces so many ground balls.

"I look at who's pitching for us, and you have a guy that gets a lot of ground balls to that side," Girardi said, "and I'm putting our best defense -- what I feel our best defense is -- over there."

That meant sitting Adams, who's hitting .200 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 23 games. He has one hit in three at-bats against Moore.

Nix is 1-for-10 with five strikeouts against Moore, and Brignac has never faced him.

Girardi has been giving all of them consistent at-bats, but defense took precedent when it came to filling out Thursday's lineup.

"A lot of that is because of the guy on the hill for us," Girardi said. "For the most part, I'm giving them their at-bats."

Pineda feels 'great' after start for Class A Tampa

Outlook: Pineda still looking to make mark for Yanks

TAMPA, Fla. -- Michael Pineda said that he felt "great" after pitching four innings for Class A Advanced Tampa on Thursday night, his third outing since beginning a rehab assignment earlier this month.

Pineda allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk while striking out three against the Brevard County Manatees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. He threw 52 of his 73 pitches for strikes and served up only one hard-hit ball all night, a line-drive single to right field by the second batter he faced.

The 24-year-old, recovering from surgery on his right shoulder, said that he felt strong enough to pitch deeper into the game and hopes to do so the next time he takes the mound. He doesn't know where that outing will take place, nor is he sure how many more Minor League starts he'll need. He seemed perfectly content leaving those decisions in the Yankees' hands.

"I don't have control of the situation. But the [good] thing is, my shoulder is feeling good," Pineda said. "Everything's doing well. That's where I want to be."

Thursday was technically Pineda's third start since he began his 30-day rehab assignment, but it was just his second with the Tampa Yankees. He gave up two hits and an unearned run while striking out four over 4 1/3 innings for Tampa on June 9, then started in a simulated game last Friday so the Yankees could better control the conditions in which he pitched.

This latest outing gave him a more realistic taste of what he'll have to deal with whenever he returns to the Majors. The first three batters he faced reached on singles -- he said that his front side was flying open during his delivery -- and he had to pitch his way out of a jam in a 27-pitch inning.

"It's good," he said. "I learned a lot from this game."

After that, Pineda did a better job of keeping the ball down in the strike zone and gave up only two hits, a walk and an unearned run over the next three innings. His only three-ball count of the night resulted in a walk. He used all of his pitches and said that his changeup was more effective than ever.

Pineda wanted to go back out for the fifth inning, but pitching coach Jeff Ware decided to call it a night, because Pineda was close to the 80-pitch mark the Yankees had set for the start.

Acquired by New York before the 2012 season after a breakout rookie season in Seattle, Pineda has yet to throw a pitch in the Majors for the Yankees. He may have to wait a little longer even when he is declared fully healthy, because the Bombers don't have a pressing need for starting pitching right now. But after completing another successful step toward the bigs, Pineda could at least entertain the idea of pitching in pinstripes relatively soon.

"I want to," he said. "I want to pitch back in the Major Leagues."

Almonte gets first Major League hit in unusual fashion

TB@NYY: Almonte singles for first career hit

NEW YORK -- Zoilo Almonte's first career hit came in unusual fashion, but it still felt good to get one under his belt.

Pinch-hitting for outfielder Vernon Wells in the ninth inning of Thursday's 8-3 loss, Almonte scorched a grounder to the left side. The ball drilled the third-base bag and popped into the air, giving Almonte enough time to reach first base.

Almonte was thrown out at second a batter later as part of a fielder's choice.

Manager Joe Girardi said that he was just getting Almonte an at-bat -- "trying to get his first hit for him" -- and that the substitution wasn't an indictment on Wells' play of late.

The ball probably would have snuck past Longoria and into left field, but the strangeness of the single will make the hit all the more memorable.

"You try and get it out of the way," Girardi said, "because sometimes you get that first one out of the way, [then] if you're called upon to play, it's a lot easier."