ST. PETERSBURG -- Pitching continued to be the difference between winning and losing for Tampa Bay on Friday night as David Phelps held the Rays without a baserunner until the fifth inning while Roberto Hernandez struggled again as the Yankees drubbed the Rays, 9-4, before 17,825 at Tropicana Field.
"Pitching won the game for them -- and not for us," said manager Joe Maddon as his Rays dropped to five games behind the Yankees in the American League East. Tampa Bay has now lost a season-high three games in a row at home.
"We have to pitch better if we're going to win," Maddon admitted. "We have to pitch better as a group. We're slugging, we're hitting the ball well. But you still have to pitch well. You have to pitch better than the other team, and we just haven't done that with any consistency."
Hernandez, now 2-5 with a 5.73 ERA, departed after four innings, trailing 5-0. In his last two starts, the Rays' right-hander has worked a total of six innings, allowing 10 runs on 14 hits. In 12 career appearances against the Yankees, Hernandez is 1-6 with a 7.50 ERA.
"It just wasn't his night -- again," Maddon said. "He's not throwing the ball where he wants to with any consistency. His pitches are just not where he wants them to be."
However, Maddon said he has no intention of dropping Hernandez from the Rays' starting rotation at this time.
"I don't anticipate talking about Hernandez, I really don't," the manager insisted.
"A lot of bad pitches," Hernandez acknowledged, when asked the reason for Friday's poor showing. "It's a little bit frustrating."
Hernandez declined to blame his troubles on the fact that Jose Lobaton was behind the plate rather than starting catcher Jose Molina.
"If you throw bad pitches, it don't matter who's catching," the righty said.
Hernandez needed 36 pitches to get through the second inning, as the Yankees batted around, scoring three times on four hits and leaving the bases loaded.
Lyle Overbay knocked in New York's first two runs with a double off the wall in right and Jayson Nix singled in another. Walks to Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano loaded the bases with two outs, but Vernon Wells popped to second to end the rally.
Hernandez then retired six Yankees in a row before Chris Stewart singled with two out in the fourth, setting up a two-run homer to right by Gardner.
"The home run by Gardner really hurt, and I didn't think it was going to get any better," Maddon said in explaining why he lifted Hernandez after the fourth inning.
Trailing 5-0, Maddon called on reliever Cesar Ramos to keep the Rays in the game.
"I felt that if we kept it at five, we had a chance to come back," Maddon said. "It's tough mentally to come back from further behind than that. I felt really good about Ramos pitching against that group and keeping it at five. I thought Cesar could right the ship. But that didn't happen."
Instead, the Yankees batted around again and pushed three more runs across the plate against Ramos in the fifth.
"I really thought Ramos could go once through their lineup -- but not all in one inning," Maddon said. "We really have to do a better job keeping them in check and giving our offense a chance to come back."
Although the Rays didn't get a hit or put a runner on base against Phelps until James Loney doubled down the right-field line with one out in the fifth, Maddon said, "I loved the way we swung the bat. I thought we had some really good at-bats."
The Rays ended the shutout with three runs in the sixth when Lobaton and Yunel Escobar singled, Matt Joyce doubled to right, Ben Zobrist grounded out and Luke Scott lofted a sacrifice fly to center.
The Rays made it 9-4 in the seventh when Kelly Johnson tripled and Sam Fuld flied to right.
Phelps, who worked a career-high 7 2/3 innings, left the game with two outs in the eighth when he was struck on his right forearm by a hard-hit ball off the bat of Zobrist, suffering a contusion.
Evan Longoria, who had reached base in 45 of the Rays' first 46 games, went 0-for-4 to snap his career-high 16-game hitting streak.
Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.