ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees held a closed-door team meeting for approximately 20 minutes before Wednesday's game against the Rays at Tropicana Field, addressing their recent skid in the standings.

Manager Joe Girardi confirmed the meeting, which began two hours before the team took the field without sole possession of first place in the American League East after 84 consecutive days with the division lead to itself. The Yankees entered their series finale against the Rays tied with the Orioles and 1 1/2 games ahead of Tampa Bay.

"We're still in first place," Girardi said. "That's the bottom line, and what's going to happen in this division is going to depend on how we're going to play in the next 27 games. I like our club, and I like our team. I believe they're going to get it done."

Girardi declined to say if this was the Yankees' first meeting of the season, but he said that in a typical year, he expects to have three to five meetings.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman wouldn't say if he addressed the team, but he said that he is confident the Yankees will be able to turn around their recent bad stretch.

"[I'm confident] because of who we got and what we've got," Cashman said. "This stuff happens. It's not easy when you're going through it, but we're better than the way we're playing recently. We look forward to proving that out. I'm not embarrassed that we're in a pennant race because there's a lot of good teams here."

After the meeting, which was held in an off-limits area of the visitors' clubhouse while the main room was open to the media, several players were laughing and seemingly in good spirits before taking the field for pregame stretching and batting practice.

"They come out every day in a good mood," Girardi said. "Now, I've got to tell you, this group doesn't like to lose and I don't expect them to be happy after we lose a game, but every day they come prepared and they're in a good mood."

Girardi sees small ball as poor fit for Yanks

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees have spent most of this season flexing their muscles and proudly stating that they are a team built around the home run. That doesn't figure to change any time soon.

Manager Joe Girardi rejected the idea, raised by hitting coach Kevin Long after Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Rays, that the Yankees should begin trying to bunt more and play small ball to cure their offensive woes.

"That's not really our approach," Girardi said. "We're not the Bronx Bunters, and we really never have been. The one thing you can concentrate on is really good at-bats and making sure you grind out your at-bats.

"If you have to move a runner over, make sure you hit the ball to the other side or pull it or try to drive the ball. Take the extra base when you can. We're not going to change our philosophy."

Long said that he believed the Yankees could benefit from moving runners over; for example, in the third inning of Tuesday's game, Derek Jeter singled and Curtis Granderson was hit by a pitch.

Long suggested that Nick Swisher could have bunted the runners over; instead, Swisher struck out and Robinson Cano hit into an inning-ending double play.

"At this point, when you're not scoring runs, you've got to try something," Long said. "We'll talk about it. Maybe it goes up to a point right now where it's, like, 80 percent we're bunting [in those situations].

"And then it goes down to maybe 50 percent because we're starting to swing the bats better. And if we struggle again, those are the times to do those things. There are some things we can do besides sit around and wait for a big home run."

Girardi essentially dismissed the idea, saying that the Yankees' roster is not constructed that way and that, with a club full of sluggers, "You can't ask guys to do something they're not accustomed to doing." New York has a Major League-high 10 players on its roster with at least 10 homers this year.

"If you have a club that has a lot of speed and you have a lot of hit-and-run candidates, you might [bunt]," Girardi said. "That's not something that we're really built on. I'm not going to ask our guys to change who they are. You can't do that. I can't make our guys world-class sprinters all of a sudden. That's not going to happen. We need to hit, and we know that."

Girardi said that he and Long are on the same page and do not have a difference of opinion on the bunting issue. Girardi pointed out that he has put on the bunt sign for some players, like Ichiro Suzuki, with mixed results.

"There are times that I do play for one run," Girardi said. "You've seen us bunt before. But I'm not going to put Robbie Cano up there with a runner on second and nobody out and say, 'Robbie, put down a bunt.' It just doesn't make sense."

Pettitte clears hurdle with pushoff in windup

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andy Pettitte moved one step closer to getting back into a big league game on Wednesday, but the Yankees left-hander's timetable is still uncertain.

Pettitte threw about 15 pitches to hitters during a simulated game at Tropicana Field, another positive sign as the veteran hopes to return from his fractured left ankle in time to help the Yankees in September.

"I felt like I threw the ball well," Pettitte said. "I felt like I was pushing off full. I almost tried to make it like a game, so it was a good day. For me, it's a good way to ramp it up pretty quick."

Pettitte expects to pitch again under simulated conditions this weekend in Baltimore, and with Minor League games scarce, it is likely that he will have to build his pitch count without a rehabilitation assignment.

Pettitte also has some concern about his stamina. The lefty has been limited to training on a stationary bicycle and swimming in the pool at Yankee Stadium, but he has yet to be cleared by a doctor to run.

"My calves, the muscles in my legs; I mean, it's different than riding a bicycle," Pettitte said. "I haven't done that in almost 10 weeks now, so I have to run around the field at some point and we've got to do some stuff."

Manager Joe Girardi suggested that Pettitte could pitch in a big league game after building his count to about 60 pitches or four innings, but general manager Brian Cashman said it is still too soon to establish a target date.

"We will add him when we feel he can contribute to our efforts at this level," Cashman said. "I can't give you that date yet. Obviously, today, he's not ready to do that, but today was an important day to get us closer to that date."

Bombers bits

• The Yankees are past the date when an acquisition could qualify for the postseason roster, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't consider the idea of picking up someone who could help them make the playoffs.

"I'm not actively looking, but I'm certainly open to doing anything that could benefit us," Cashman said. "But I think all our answers are right here."

• Right-hander Ivan Nova, on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, is getting closer to game action, but the Yankees are not yet prepared to say what his next step is.

• Entering play on Wednesday, the Yankees had held a lead in seven of their last 10 losses and nine of their last 14. Since June 28, they had owned a lead in 20 of their 31 defeats.

• On this date in 2007, Alex Rodriguez hit two home runs in an eight-run seventh inning, leading the Yankees to a 10-2 win over the Mariners. It was the first two-homer inning by a Yankee since Cliff Johnson did it on June 30, 1977, at Toronto.