Pettitte wants to be part of the solution

09/18/2012 4:18 PM ET
By Jon Lane

The Yankees are counting on Andy Pettitte to help point them towards the postseason.(AP)
Andy Pettitte lives for moments like what will await him on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium as part of a day-night doubleheader. Considered one of the greatest pressure pitchers in history, Pettitte is scheduled to make his first start in nearly three months against the Toronto Blue Jays with the New York Yankees nursing a precious half-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East.

When Pettitte took Casey Kotchman’s line drive off his fibula on June 27, it fractured the bone, halted what was a riveting return to baseball after a year’s retirement (3-3, 3.22 ERA), and the trickle-down effect weakened the Yankees and contributed to a 10-game division lead being trimmed all the way down to a first-place tie with the Orioles. But rest assured, Pettitte works with enough aplomb to keep his emotions at sea level. He never gets overwhelmed by the situation. He’s motivated by being part of the solution and not sitting on the sidelines powerless to contribute.

“That’s what you come back for,” Pettitte said on returning in the heat of a pennant race. “Obviously it would be nice to have a little bit of a bigger lead, where you can take a breath. It would be nice to know that we were going to the postseason right now, and not have to worry about it. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. But I’m looking forward to being back, trying to help this club do what we want to do; that’s get to the postseason and hopefully win the championship. I want to be part of that solution, not just sitting there watching it.”

What awaits Pettitte, besides the threat of severe wind and rain, are the Blue Jays and high stakes in the opener of a three-game series. When Pettitte announced he was coming back in Spring Training, he was viewed as a complementary piece and veteran stabilizer to a deep rotation fronted by CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, and a youthful core of Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. Then Pineda blew out his rotator cuff. Hughes stumbled out of the gate, Freddy Garcia, who replaced Pineda, put up a 12.51 ERA in April. The carefully-crafted plan for Pettitte was to return in May, but suddenly he was viewed as a rotation savior.

The more things changed over the course of a long season, the more the situation remained the same, as Pettitte is again being counted on to be the liberator of a team that’s gone 26-39 since July 18, the day it enjoyed a 10-game lead. While Kuroda has been the Yankees’ finest pitcher, Sabathia has struggled in losing three of his last four starts under persistent questions about his health. That means Petttitte, who threw 55 pitches in a simulated game last Tuesday and otherwise was granted little rehab time with the end of the Minor League season, is being thrown into the fire under a pitch limit of 70 pitches.

“I'm going to go out there, hope I can get in a good rhythm, have my command and I'll throw the ball well," Pettitte said. "If I don't, if I'm walking guys and my command isn't good, I'm going to get hit, I'm going to get knocked around. That's just the way it is. Even though I've been out a couple months, I know what to expect, and the Blue Jays are going to be ready for it. I'm looking forward to it being a battle, and I feel like I'm ready for that physically and mentally."

“I’m looking forward to being back, trying to help this club do what we want to do; that’s get to the postseason and hopefully win the championship. I want to be part of that solution, not just sitting there watching it.”
— Andy Pettitte

Pettitte and his all-time best 19-10, 3.83 ERA postseason record – the man who in 2009 won all three clinching games en route to the Yankees’ 27th World Championship – is being counted on at the most pressing time. The way the schedule lines up now, Pettitte will receive four starts before the playoffs, including the October 3 season finale against the Red Sox, which will line him up for a Game 2 or 3 ALDS start depending on whether the Yankees win the AL East and enter the October tournament as the No. 1 or 2 seed. The Orioles have persisted in the pennant chase like a one who tailgates on a highway, which means Pettitte has to be ready, whether he’s fully comfortable or not.

 “I think I probably would be a little concerned if I didn’t feel like my command was where it was, because you feel a little helpless out there when you’re not able to control the ball like you want to,” Pettitte said. “But my command’s been there in the simulated games. Like I said before, the only thing that’s the unknown is the stamina, I feel like. My command may not be great when I get out there, it’s a big-league ballgame, that could be different, but all I can say is that in these simulated games, I’ve felt really comfortable with all my pitches. My command’s been great, and I expect to do well when I pitch on Tuesday.”

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