Pettitte stays unbeaten as Yanks cruise
Lefty strikes out season-high eight, improves to 3-0
ANAHEIM -- Andy Pettitte might not be able to approach CC Sabathia's ace stature or lay claim to A.J. Burnett's sizzling arsenal, but so far, he has been able to look like the Yankees' most reliable starting pitcher.
Pettitte's strong start to the campaign continued on Saturday as the veteran left-hander handled the Angels in a 7-1 victory at Angel Stadium, helping the Bombers post their seventh victory in nine games.
Staked to a healthy advantage early, Pettitte completed eight innings and struck out a season-high eight without permitting a walk, improving to 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA through four starts.
"They're a great team. They're difficult to pitch to," Pettitte said. "They've got speed and they get on base. I feel fortunate I was able to give us a good outing.
"I feel like we've seen them so much by the end of the year and in the playoffs, we've made a lot of starts against these guys here lately. They've got a good idea of what I want to do out there on the mound, and that means you've got to execute."
After being largely stymied in their last meeting on April 14 in New York, the Yankees handed Halos right-hander Joel Pineiro some measure of revenge, putting up six runs and 11 hits in six innings.
With designated hitter Nick Johnson ailing from a sore lower back, speedy Brett Gardner jumped into duty as the No. 2 hitter, going 3-for-5 with a triple, two runs scored and a stolen base. Robinson Cano had four hits and scored three of New York's runs.
Nick Swisher and Francisco Cervelli also drove in a pair of runs each for the Yankees, who improved to 6-0 this season when allowing three runs or fewer.
"We faced him last week and we got to face him again," Gardner said of Pineiro. "I think it helps any time you have a better idea of what he's going to do. When he was at our place, his sinker was the best I've ever seen.
"It was down in the zone, he was making perfect pitches and he was hard to hit. Today we took advantage of some balls he left up."
Swisher drove in the first run with a booming second-inning double, and Cervelli's two-run single past third baseman Brandon Wood -- coming after an intentional walk to Curtis Granderson loaded the bases -- highlighted a three-run fourth inning that also included a Derek Jeter RBI single.
"When you see pitchers throwing a game like this, you want to help them," Cervelli said. "That's what I try to do, put the ball in play. It was a big hit."
One pitch after being knocked down by an inside fastball in the fifth inning, Gardner ripped a triple into the right-field corner, and Cano made Pineiro pay with an RBI single, before a wild pitch and a passed ball set up Swisher's second RBI hit.
"I don't think he was meaning to come up and in on me like that, but I need to do that kind of thing more often," Gardner said. "If I get in advantage counts, I have to be aggressive, take good swings and hit a ball hard."
Pettitte said that his pitches had wandered back toward the middle of the plate early, and considered himself lucky to escape without more damage. But he settled in -- so far, Pettitte has held opponents to a .217 average, and the 1.29 ERA is his lowest ever at this point of a season.
"I just think he's more consistent with his pitches," manager Joe Girardi said. "We've seen this before from him. Andy can be a devastating pitcher. You don't win as many games as he has not having good stuff and knowing how to pitch."
"The last two times he's faced us, that's the best we've ever seen him, probably ever," Angels manager Mike Scioscia added.
In the second inning, Pettitte got the benefit of a stunning Ramiro Pena diving catch at third base to rob Juan Rivera, with Pena playing as Alex Rodriguez logged his first day of DH duty this year.
Mike Napoli challenged Gardner in the third inning by advancing to third base with none out on a Wood single. Gardner's strong throw landed ahead of the play and helped to run the Angels out of the inning.
"I was a little surprised, I didn't think he was going to go to third," Gardner said. "It was in the gap and wasn't deep, but I didn't come in for it either. They're an aggressive ballclub and they do those kinds of things."
The Angels' lone strike against Pettitte came in the sixth inning when Erick Aybar led off with a double and scored later in the inning on Torii Hunter's sacrifice fly.
"He's a veteran guy," Hunter said of Pettitte. "He's been around a long time. He hit his spots, whether away or in. He was very comfortable out there. He looked good."
Having no walks was a step forward, Pettitte said.
"That's huge for me," Pettitte said. "Even though I've been feeling good with my command, I feel like I've been walking a few too many. For me, I usually give up hits, so three walks in a game is too many. Hopefully I can keep that down."
Mark Teixeira added a run-scoring double in the seventh inning off Scot Shields to complete scoring behind Pettitte, who spoke quickly before fastening the buttons of his shirt and heading off with his work for the afternoon complete.
More than ever, Pettitte seems content to be without the sizzle of some of baseball's bigger names. He doesn't really need the headlines, and the proof is in the 'W' column.
"I think Andy enjoys that," Girardi said. "I think that's the way he likes it, just to fly under the radar and do his job. He beats himself up a little bit and gets wins."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.