"Well, they're struggling, no doubt about it, but they're going to keep fighting," Steinbrenner told the collective media after a press conference at Yankee Stadium that announced a new eight-year deal for the Big 10 to participate in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl college football showcase.
"The morale is good. I know that for a fact. I was down there earlier today. They're going to keep fighting and let's keep perspective here. We're three games out in the toughest division in baseball. We're right in the middle of the fight and that's going to continue. But we do need to start hitting, there's no doubt about it. They know that. They know that."
In a six-minute off-the-cuff gathering prior to Monday night's opener of a three-game set against the Indians, Steinbrenner fielded questions about Robinson Cano's contract, the future of Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees and the four-game sweep by the hands of the crosstown Mets.
No news on Cano's contract
About Cano, the Yankees All-Star second baseman who can be a free agent this offseason, Steinbrenner said there was no news.
"I have nothing new to report, nothing new to report," he said. "If there's something significant, you guys will be the first to know."
Hoping A-Rod will 'act like a Yankee'
About A-Rod, who is rehabbing from hip surgery at the club's complex in Tampa, Fla., Steinbrenner was asked to respond to comments made by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball that it was tough for the third baseman to live up to his eight-year, $275 million contract.
"It's something I think even Alex would tell you, he couldn't live up to that," Cashman said.
Responded Steinbrenner: "Well, it's a big contract to live up to. I didn't see Brian's comments, to be honest with you. Look, we just hope he comes back healthy as he did in '09 after the surgery and we hope he contributes in a big way. I mean, he's a heck of an athlete and if the surgery has fixed the problem, you may see good things out of him. We certainly hope so. ... We all hope he's going to act like a Yankee and do the best he can to live up to it."
Asked if Rodriguez has acted like a Yankee, Steinbrenner added: "Well, we'll see. We'll find out when he comes back. I know he's been working hard and he's been working hard to come back. And he does work hard. He knows what it means to be a Yankee. He knows what we expect of him. He knows what his teammates expect of him. We just hope he comes back strong. We need all the help we can get.
"There's no doubt at times that we've been disappointed in him and we've conveyed that to him and he understands that. But everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes. If you've got a guy over the course of 10 years, there will be times when anybody is going to make mistakes in a decade, right?"
About Major League Baseball's investigation of A-Rod's steroid use through a now defunct Miami clinic, Steinbrenner said: "We haven't been told anything so it hasn't complicated [our relationship] at all. He's been in Tampa. He's been rehabbing. We hope he comes back strong. But there's innocent until proven guilty, right? We haven't heard a thing."
Staying calm over Mets sweep
Steinbrenner took over management of the club in the waning days of his father George's life. The man they called "The Boss" passed away nearly three years ago at the age of 80.
In recent days, as the Yanks were swept by the Mets, there has been much talk about how the late Steinbrenner would have handled it. He was well-known for his quick outbursts, sudden firings and written public apologies to Yankees fans after a series of losses like the ones that have occurred in recent days.
But the current Yankees hierarchy has handled the situation with an even and calm hand, as Hal Steinbrenner conveyed again Monday.
"He went through a few [of these]," Steinbrenner said about his dad. "Some of them he handled better than others, right? Some of you guys were here. So I can't say. Maybe he would've been fine, maybe not. It's a long season and we're right in the middle of it, right in the middle of it."
But losing two at Citi Field and another pair at Yankee Stadium to the Mets? How does that feel in the present tense?
"Look, they are the crosstown rivals, there's no doubt about that. But I concern myself a little bit more with the teams in our division. You have to. But does it feel good? No. Does it sting? Yes, absolutely, absolutely."
'Very much in this fight'
In summing up a season during which almost $100 million of star players have been on the disabled list, one the Yankees are still playing without A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Francisco Cervelli and Michael Pineda, Steinbrenner said he's pleased that the Yankees are where they are.
"I think about the team, a lot of people expected the doomsday scenario around April 1," he said. "I don't think anybody figured we'd be three games out of first place in the American League East. I think the team has done well against adversity. The pitching has been great. You can't say enough about the pitching the entire season. And the guys we've brought in, the veterans, have done a good job and some of the young kids have done a good job.
"Look, the last week has hurt. There's no doubt about it. It's not a fun place to be when you're slumping. Again, let's try to keep the perspective that we've very much in this fight and we're right at the top."