CHICAGO -- The most significant pitches tossed by a Yankee on Friday may have occurred several hours before game time at U.S. Cellular Field.
They happened out in the visitors' bullpen, where left-hander Andy Pettitte threw 25 pitches off a full-mound at approximately 75 percent in what he and manager Joe Girardi deemed a step in the right direction in his recovery from a strained left groin.
Pettitte had not thrown in 10 days after an MRI revealed a small persistent strain in his groin. A bullpen session without discomfort, then, even if not at full strength, is a mark of progress for the veteran.
"It was good," Pettitte said. "I didn't push off as hard as I could. I didn't have any discomfort at all, so to me that's a positive."
Girardi said that Pettitte did not feel "that tug in his groin." The next step for the southpaw should be another, harder bullpen session, perhaps as early as Sunday.
"You really have to look at his next bullpen, see how hard he's able to throw, see how he pitches," Girardi said. "Does he need another bullpen? Is a simulated game the next step? It's wait-and-see."
Girardi said that he wants Pettitte to face hitters at least twice before he returns to the Yankees' rotation. That could include a pair of rehab assignments, or a simulated game and a rehab. Time for rehab appearances, however, is running short as the Minor League season comes to an end.
"You're anxious just sitting around the bullpen. It's getting close to the end of the season. I realize where we're at, but there's still time," Pettitte said.
Pettitte's injury, suffered back on July 18 in a start against the Rays, was supposed to keep him out of action for only five weeks. Pettitte was even ahead of that schedule briefly, but he admitted he may have pushed himself too far, leading to his setback.
This time around, he's eschewing weightlifting and running, focusing all his energies on getting back into pitching shape.
"I feel like it's all healed up, and now it's a matter of getting the strength back," Pettitte said. "And the only way to do that is to throw and throw to hitters."
Pettitte acknowledged that the big test will come with an opponent in the batter's box against him. Girardi said he would like Pettitte to make as many starts as possible before the postseason, but said, "we'll take what we can get."
"He's better than he was 10 days ago, and we've just got to keep moving in the right direction," Girardi said. "Today was a good day."
Girardi's focus on 2010, not Cubs' job
CHICAGO -- Manager Joe Girardi fulfilled his promise on Friday to briefly discuss the rumors linking his name to the Chicago Cubs' managerial opening for 2011. Girardi, however, spent that time reiterating his commitment to the Yankees.
"My responsibility is to the Yankees," Girardi said. "I was hired by the Yankees to do a job. We're in a division race, we're in a very tight division race, and my job is to prepare this team to play every day. And that's what I'm focusing on."
Speculation has circled around Girardi ever since Lou Piniella announced he would retire as the Cubs' skipper at season's end. It has only been amplified over the past week, with Piniella's stepping down on Sunday and the Yankees' visit to the South Side this weekend. Both the Tribune and Sun-Times had feature columns singling out Girardi as the man to lead the Cubs back to the postseason.
"I did see the Sun-Times in my office today," Girardi said with a smile. "I don't really read a lot of those papers anyway. I'm a Sudoku guy."
Girardi, whose initial three-year contract with the Yankees runs out at season's end, said there's too much left to do in 2010 to allow him to think ahead to '11.
"I've never worried about next year," Girardi said. "I'm happy with my contract situation. I feel like I'm fortunate to be one of 30 managers with a contract right now and managing in the big leagues.
"You deal with what you're in now; you don't speculate."
Girardi said he wasn't exactly comfortable having to deal with all the speculation, but he understands it's part of the job.
"I assumed it was going to happen. People out here have jobs to do and stories to write. I understand that," Girardi said. "But my focus is here. I don't want to take away from what we're trying to do here. And I don't want the players or the organization to think that I'm not focused on the game."
Wood can empathize with Strasburg
CHICAGO -- Kerry Wood knows what Stephen Strasburg is going through.
On the day that the Nationals announced that Strasburg would likely require Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the Yankees reliever recalled his own experience with the surgery when he was a phenom coming up with the Cubs.
Wood missed the entire 1999 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The injury came after his remarkable rookie season in 1998, one that included his 20-strikeout one-hitter against the Astros and a National League Rookie of the Year Award. He returned 13 months after the surgery, in May 2000.
Wood said his youth -- he was 21 at the time -- helped him return quickly. So did accepting the injury and moving forward right away.
"If you look for reasons why or why this happened to me, it delays the process of recovery," Wood said. "There's nothing else you can do except look forward."
The weighty expectations on his shoulders didn't change his perspective.
"When the game's taken away from you, you don't care what the expectations are," Wood said. "It's what you've been doing since you were 5 years old, it's what you love doing. You want to get back to a level you can compete at."
The lead-up to Wood's injury does differ from Strasburg's case. Whereas the Nationals have done all they can to limit Strasburg's innings and pitch counts in his rookie season, Wood threw at least 100 pitches in 21 of his 26 starts with the Cubs in 1998.
Still, Wood is not an advocate of coddling young pitchers, saying limiting their pitch counts in the Minors can prevent them from being ready to throw the same number of pitches in a higher stress environment in the Majors.
Manager Joe Girardi said the natural reaction to an injury such as Strasburg's is for the organization to wonder what it did wrong.
"Sometimes it just happens," he said. "There are injuries in sports."
Wood made it clear that there are varying degrees of them, and as bad as Tommy John surgery can be, it doesn't even compare to the shoulder surgery he underwent later in his career.
"The shoulder is 10 times harder than the elbow," he said.
Nick Swisher was back in the lineup hitting fifth and playing right field on Friday after missing Wednesday's game with a swollen left knee. ... The Yankees' off-day on Thursday was their first since Aug 5 and just their second since the All-Star break. ... Girardi spent his off-day visiting with his family, saying it was "wonderful" to see his father, currently battling Alzheimer's. "It's tough, and every time I see him I wonder if it's going to be the last. He hadn't talked in about four or five months. Out of the blue yesterday, he said, 'I'm good' to me," Girardi said. "That was tremendous." ... Ten of the past 12 road games for the Yankees have been decided by three runs or fewer. ... The Yankees are 7-1-1 in series against the AL Central this season.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.