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Disappointed with bats and frustrated by injuries, Steinbrenner expects Yanks to 'step it up'

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BALTIMORE - Sounding much like his late father, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said his team's offence has to snap out of its funk and he's optimistic New York will return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.

Steinbrenner spoke at Major League Baseball's owners meetings before New York wasted a two-run lead in a 5-3 loss to the first-place Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, a few blocks away.

The third-place Yankees dropped a season-high eight games off the AL East lead and fell 3 1/2 games behind in the race for the AL's second wild card.

Even before the loss, Steinbrenner was especially disappointed with New York's batters.

"They've got to step it up, and they know it," he said.

New York began the night tied for 19th with 471 runs, a disappointment given the off-season additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Steinbrenner said the inconsistency "needs to change."

The Yankees' starting rotation has been decimated by injuries to Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, who returned Wednesday to make his first big league appearance since April 23. Pineda was suspended for 10 games for using a foreign substance, then injured a right shoulder muscle.

"The injuries have been as frustrating as they were last year," Steinbrenner said. "'When you lose four of your starting pitchers by the All-Star game ... it's going to have an impact."

New York dropped to 61-58, one fewer win than after 119 games last season. The Yankees finished fourth last year at 85-77, their poorest record since 1992.

Steinbrenner said there remains time for a late-season spurt.

"I am confident," he said.

But time is running out.

"I think we were more looking at the second wild-card spot. That's a little bit better number that seems a little more achievable at this point," said Shawn Kelley, who allowed a tiebreaking, three-run homer to Adam Jones in Baltimore's four-run eighth.

Yankees captain Derek Jeter remained ever confident.

"We play the people that are in front of us," he said. "You worry about things when you don't have control of them. We have control over what happens. We're not making it easy on ourselves."

Steinbrenner said he will wait until after the season to turn his attention to a new deal for Brian Cashman, whose contract is expiring. Cashman has been the Yankees' general manager since 1998.

Steinbrenner expects Alex Rodriguez will return to the Yankees next season after serving his one-year suspension for using banned performance-enhancing drugs.

"That's what he's planning for. That's what we're planning for," Steinbrenner said. "Alex will be ready."

Rodriguez, who turns 40 next July, is owed $61 million over the next three seasons.

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