Pettitte ready to return at critical juncture for Yanks
BOSTON -- Andy Pettitte is once again poised to make a major difference for the Yankees. The calendar moves on, the lead character grows older, but this script never really changes.
Pettitte threw four innings of a simulated game Wednesday and all the appropriate parties were satisfied with the results. Did Pettitte display the kind of stuff that could retire Major League hitters?
"Sure. Yeah," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. The brevity of this response indicated that the manager believed this answer was so obvious as to require no further discussion.
What about the 40-year-old lefty himself? He suffered a fractured left ankle on June 27, but here he was, actively campaigning for late-season starts.
"I'm ready," Pettitte said. "Can I give you 100 pitches? No, but I feel like my stuff has been crisp. If they want me to do this, then I want to get back in there. I'm comfortable with doing that.
"I feel like my stuff has been good on the days that I've done these simulated games, so I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be good the next time I went out and threw. I'm sure we'll talk in the next day or two and figure out exactly what we're going to do."
OK, but with this comeback, the degree of difficulty increases. If the Yankees, for instance, were to place Pettitte in their rotation, in place of rookie David Phelps next Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, Pettitte would be coming back without conventional game preparation.
"Not being able to pitch in a real game? Is it ideal?" Girardi said. "I don't know. I can tell you in 2009 that's almost all he did in Spring Training and then he had a tremendous year for us. Because every game he was supposed to pitch [in Spring Training] was rained out. And he did some of that leading up to coming back this year. For him, I think he's going to have that intensity and get that work no matter where he is. For some other guys, it might be more important to get in a real game."
The question of returning to the big leagues from an injury without pitching in a game was also presented to Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine.
"I don't think for Andy Pettitte it would be that tough," Valentine said. "For a real experienced pitcher, I don't think it would be that tough. As long as there's a bat moving at the ball sometime in the process, I don't think it has to be under lights, or with fans in the stands or anything."
The Yankees were encouraged not only by the fact that Pettitte was able to make the necessary defensive movements in the simulated game, covering bases and fielding bunts. But the quality of Pettitte's pitches remained the striking thing.
"What's most impressive? Probably his arm strength," Girardi said. "I know he was able to throw [during rehabilitation], but he had one leg up on a chair and it's still not the same as being able to air it out and play long-toss. So I've been impressed with his arm strength."
In the end, the Yankees have faith in Pettitte's ability to do whatever they ask him to do. This, after all, is what he has typically done. So the idea of him returning to the mound at a critical point in the season without any game preparation is not at all far-fetched for them.
"We know who he is, and we know what he's gone through and we've seen him come back time and time again," Girardi said. "A lot of it has to do with that."
"I've pitched with enough stuff; not being healthy with elbow issues, groin issues, back," Pettitte said. "Just let me go out there and compete. That's what I want to do. I feel like I can get through it."
Just the thought of Pettitte's renewed availability seems to make the Yankees a better club. Their rotation options increased dramatically Wednesday. Girardi said that Ivan Nova, out since Aug. 21 with inflammation in his right shoulder, will take the rotation spot that was held by Freddy Garcia. Garcia had struggled in recent starts.
And Phelps, who could be removed from the rotation to make room for Pettitte, produced a winning effort Wednesday night at Fenway Park, limiting the Red Sox to one run over 5 1/3 innings. The eventual 5-4 victory kept the Yankees in a first-place tie with Baltimore.
But Girardi said that the decision to put Pettitte into the rotation had much less to do with how Phelps performed than whether Pettitte was ready to pitch.
That is the status that Pettitte has earned. In five World Series championship seasons, Andy Pettitte has been an invaluable contributor for the Yankees. Given the way he pitched earlier this season, why doubt that he could help again?
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.