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04/26/12 1:30 AM ET

Yankees facing unexpected arms crisis

ARLINGTON -- Your car is waiting for you, Mr. Pettitte. Can you finish that sandwich during the trip?

Another thing, Mr. Pettitte. Mr. Cashman wonders if you have a phone number for Roy Oswalt.

Yes, it might be that time. The Yankees began this season with a rotation that was deep and talented -- a rotation that was a combination of youth and experience, one that seemed to be as good as any in the game.

Now, they may be forced to piece things together with gum and string, from people they never thought they'd have to count on.

Tough news came in waves for the Yanks on Wednesday, as they absorbed the diagnosis that Michael Pineda would not pitch this season and then watched Phil Hughes fail to get out of the third inning in a 7-3 loss to the Rangers.

Meanwhile, the highly-regarded kids in the Minor Leagues have struggled mightily, and suddenly the Yankees have watched a strength morph into a weakness.

Things are unsettling enough that Andy Pettitte's return from retirement, a move that once seemed like a luxury, might very well hold the key to the season.

General manager Brian Cashman is probably sorting through other options, as well. For instance, Oswalt, a free agent.

Will Cashman attempt to lure Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros or Jonathan Sanchez from the Royals?

Statistically, Yankees starters are near the bottom of the American League in ERA, innings and quality starts.

If it was one thing, it would be easier to fix. After 18 games, Ivan Nova is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00. Meanwhile, two starters -- Freddy Garcia (0-1, 9.75) and Hughes (1-3, 7.88) -- are off to slow starts, and that's being kind to the phrase "slow starts."

"It hasn't been great, and we've found a way to get to 10-8," manager Joe Girardi said. "I gotta believe brighter days are ahead for our rotation."

With their margin of error down to almost nothing, the Yankees desperately needed a big-time effort from Hughes. He could have put a different spin on the entire day with an effort that would have offered some optimism.

Instead, this was another one of those nights when the Yanks had to remind themselves Hughes is just two years removed from winning 18 games and being one of baseball's brightest young stars.

Hughes has finished five innings in just one of his four starts, and he left Texas with a 7.88 ERA. He retired just eight of 15 Rangers in allowing four earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.

"Last year, [it] was velocity," Hughes said. "This year, it's location. I've got to get both of them right."

Girardi said he planned to send Hughes back out there the next time his turn in the rotation comes up.

"We believe he can do it," Girardi said. "I know he believes he can do it. You have to keep working at it."

To survive, the Yankees need CC Sabathia, Nova and Hiroki Kuroda to pitch the way they were projected to pitch.

Pettitte, 39, is nearing a return to the Major Leagues, and not a moment too soon.

"Everyone's assuming Andy is going to be Andy when he left," Girardi said. "I'm part of everybody."

If Sabathia, Nova, Kuroda and Pettitte pitch at a high level, the Yankees might have enough to win another championship.

Behind them, there are a stack of questions. Garcia has had five tough starts in a row, and Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are winless at Triple-A with ERAs above 8.00.

This isn't the way Cashman had it diagrammed. When he acquired Kuroda and Pineda on the same day last winter and had Pettitte come out of retirement, the Yankees seemed to have one of baseball's deepest rotations.

"We wouldn't have predicted this," Girardi said. "Starting pitching is very unpredictable. I believe our guys can pitch. That's the bottom line. Guys just gotta get it done."

Cashman gave up his best young player, Jesus Montero, in the deal with the Mariners to get Pineda. Cashman acknowledged the risk of such a deal the day he made it.

If you're inclined to score this trade, don't. There are miles and miles to go. Cashman took a gamble on one of the best 23-year-old arms in baseball -- and at the moment, that 23-year-old arm is unable to pitch.

Would Yankees fans rather have a GM who was afraid to take a chance? Of course not. How silly.

At this point, those questions are irrelevant. Cashman's challenge now is giving Girardi a competitive rotation. We'll total up the winners and losers later on.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.