TAMPA, Fla. -- Andy Pettitte has often said during this comeback process that he wouldn't be surprised if things went well. He wouldn't have chosen to return to the Majors if he didn't fully believe he was capable after all.
But after another nearly flawless outing with Class A Advanced Tampa on Sunday afternoon, the 39-year-old lefty couldn't help but admit he's pleased and relieved with his progress so far.
Pettitte threw four shutout innings Sunday in his second Minor League start against the Clearwater Threshers at George M. Steinbrenner Field, giving up two hits and no walks while striking out three. The Threshers only hit one ball in the air -- a mishit popup to shallow right field -- as Pettitte induced seven groundouts. He threw 31 of 47 pitches for strikes.
"Obviously, you know at this stage for me, any setback would cost you a month, maybe, or so. I'm just happy that I'm progressing the way I am," Pettitte said. "I don't want to start talking too much about how great I feel or whatever. I just want to get back up there, get ready and get back up there with the guys and start going to battle with them."
Pettitte struck out two in a 16-pitch first inning, then breezed through the second and third innings on eight and six pitches, respectively. He gave up consecutive one-out singles in the fourth -- one on a high chopper to third base, the other a ground ball up the middle -- before inducing an inning-ending double play on a comebacker.
"Everything feels pretty good. Unless every pitch is perfect, I kind of get frustrated with that," Pettitte said. "I felt like I cut a couple pitches off, and of course you know at the big league level when you do that and balls come back over the plate, that could cost you a little more than it could down here. But these guys can hit it out just as good as anyone else can to a certain degree."
His next start will come in five days, though he didn't know exactly where that will be. Pettitte said he will "for sure" make starts with Double-A Trenton before heading to the Majors, and he has been projected to join the Yankees some time in May. The Tampa Yankees play in Daytona, Fla., on Friday night, while the Trenton Thunder are at home.
Pettitte has progressed exactly as he expected to. After tossing a scoreless Spring Training inning on April 4, he threw three strong innings for Tampa last Monday on 32 pitches. He worked his way up to 47 on Sunday and should increase his workload to 65 or 70 pitches on Friday.
"For a guy who hasn't pitched in a year, that's very impressive. He's throwing strikes. Every pitch has worked. He's been confident," said Tampa Yankees manager Luis Sojo, who played with Pettitte in the Bronx for parts of seven seasons from 1996-2003. "I would be surprised if that was somebody else. Andy is a very dedicated guy. He's very professional, and he wants to come back for a reason. The reason is that he's feeling good.
"I don't know how hard he's throwing, but location-wise, the way he pitches, same guy. Hasn't changed."
There is one potential negative consequence of his pitching so well in these Minor League starts, though: Pettitte hasn't had to labor through the long, stressful innings he will face against Major League lineups. But he has gotten some work out of the stretch, doing so in the fourth inning Sunday but especially in last Monday's outing. He said he would have liked to pitch from the stretch more often, but he was "extremely happy" with the way he felt overall.
"Right now, I feel good. I feel strong," Pettitte said. "I need to get to where I can get into a game and feel comfortable where I can get into an inning where I may have to throw 30 pitches, because that's going to happen. That's stuff you can't duplicate. I need to get my body ready, and we're going to take the time we need to get there.
"Things are good right now. Everything feels good. I felt really strong to start the game. I can tell that I'm getting to where I need to be."