If Mel Stottlemyre had been the brains behind the decision to ignore Jon Lieber in the offseason (or to pursue Randy Johnson instead of Pedro Martinez), I might be able to understand why he’s a candidate for immediate termination. More so than Brian Cashman, that is. Of course, owners usually don’t fire themselves.

From Newsday’s Jim Baumbach.

Steinbrenner, clearly frustrated by the Yankees’ poor start, all but blamed pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre by name in USA Today on Friday, implying that his job is in jeopardy.

Torre took serious exception, insisting that he should be blamed before his close friend and longtime pitching coach is. “If you’re going to give anyone the blame,” the manager said, “I’m the captain of the ship and the one who is really responsible.

“It crosses the line when you’re talking about Mel Stottlemyre.”

Steinbrenner was quoted as saying: “Our pitchers are not improving. That’s what a pitching coach is supposed to do – make your pitchers improve … We’re just not getting the pitching. I don’t know whether we have to think of some changes there or what.”

When told of Steinbrenner’s comments, Stottlemyre shrugged and said: “I have to take it right now. We’re not pitching well. But I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”

The Yankees entered Friday with a 5.16 ERA, the worst in the American League. But Torre doesn’t think Steinbrenner is justified in his criticism of Stottlemyre, whom he credited with bringing a broken rotation within three outs of reaching the World Series last year.

“You hate to think you’re blaming a guy who has given his body and soul to this organization, has sat here through the good times and bad and has been an upright, standing gentleman,” Torre said. “… He hasn’t lost a step as far as I’m concerned.”

Asked if he will relay that to Steinbrenner, Torre said: “If I have to communicate that to George, then I don’t think I can communicate that to George. If people aren’t aware of that just by watching this club for 10 years, they haven’t been paying attention.”

If nothing else, Mike Mussina’s compete game 4-hitter might provide Stottlemyre with a reprieve, New York’s 5-0 win over Oakland sparing them the indignity of matching the worst Yankee start through 31 games since 1922.