NEW YORK (AP) -After winning 247 games in the major leagues, Mike Mussina is in danger of losing his job.
With the 38-year-old right-hander pitching poorly and sounding despondent, the New York Yankees are considering pulling Mussina from the rotation in the middle of a pennant race.
Yankees manager Joe Torre said Tuesday he wouldn't make a decision until speaking with Mussina, who has a 17.69 ERA in his past three starts. Torre said the pitcher has ``earned that conversation'' because of ``who he is and what he's done.''
``I just want to hear how he feels, and from there we'll talk about what we're going to do,'' Torre said before New York opened a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox. ``We don't have to make a decision today.''
Mussina's next scheduled start would be Saturday against last-place Tampa Bay. Torre said he planned to talk to the pitcher about his struggles Tuesday night or Wednesday afternoon.
``Some conversations are difficult to have,'' Torre said. ``I hope he makes it easy on me.''
Not long ago, Mussina was the team's top starter, but he has faded fast. After going 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA last season, he is 8-10 with a 5.53 ERA this year.
His last three starts have been particularly alarming. Mussina has allowed 19 earned runs in 9 2-3 innings spanning two outings against the hard-hitting Detroit Tigers and one against the Los Angeles Angels.
Before this slump, Mussina won four straight starts - giving up eight runs in all - and improved to 8-7.
Has he run out of gas? Does he need a breather?
Or, is he completely finished? That's certainly what Yankees fans are afraid of, especially since Mussina has a year remaining on his $23 million, two-year contract.
Mussina and Torre have both said they think the right-hander has more productivity left, but the Yankees can't afford to wait long for him to find his form.
New York heads into the final month of the season fighting for a playoff spot, so every game is crucial. The Yankees began the day two games behind Seattle, the AL wild-card leader, and eight back of first-place Boston in the AL East.
``You like to be loyal to all your players. But loyalty to all 25 comes before loyalty to any individual,'' Torre said.
The manager added that he spoke to Mussina recently about the possibility of skipping a turn if he thought that might benefit him.
``I know he's probably looked at some video to see if there's anything with his mechanics,'' Torre said. ``He's obviously at times trying to make more perfect pitches than he's probably capable of making.''
Mussina didn't speak with reporters before the game. He talked on his cell phone at his locker after batting practice, then dashed off to a team meeting.
The Yankees could choose to skip Mussina for one turn through the rotation, giving him extra time to work in the bullpen in an effort to get straightened out. Or, they could yank him from the rotation indefinitely and go with a prospect.
Touted starter Ian Kennedy, who pitched in the minors last Saturday, is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in six starts at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Matt DeSalvo would be on turn to start this Saturday if the Yankees decided to bring him back up from Scranton. DeSalvo pitched eight strong innings in an 11-2 win over Ottawa on Monday. He was 1-3 with a 6.18 ERA in seven appearances for New York earlier this year, including six starts.
Kei Igawa, a flop since coming over from Japan, also could be a possibility.
``Right now the first option is what is best for us as a team,'' Torre said.
The Yankees also might figure that facing the lowly Devil Rays, who own the worst record in the major leagues, could help get Mussina back on track.
His latest flop, three ineffective innings Monday night in a 16-0 loss at Detroit, dropped Mussina to 0-7 following Yankees losses this year. It also left him visibly dejected. Mussina said he would ``understand'' if Torre went with another pitcher next time through the rotation.
``Two weeks ago I felt really good about the way I was throwing the ball,'' Mussina said Monday night. ``Two weeks later it's completely at the other end of the spectrum and I really don't feel like I can do much of anything right, and I haven't helped us at all in the last three games that I pitched. It's disappointing.
``I don't even know how to describe it because I've never had to deal with it before,'' he added.
Mussina was hurt by some bad luck and poor defense Monday night, which Torre noted.
``There were some balls that with any kind of luck he would have had a better result. I know he wasn't happy with it,'' Torre said. ``He threw more strikes, gave himself more of a chance. I thought it was better. I thought he was a little freer throwing the ball. I thought he got frustrated quicker.''

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