Pettitte threw 55 pitches without feeling any pain in the left fibula he broke on June 27. Yankees manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and general manager Brian Cashman obviously liked what they saw from the 40-year-old southpaw. Several outlets, including ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews, reported that Pettitte will start on Tuesday (Sept. 18) against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Yankees need Pettitte to pitch well and make a significant contribution down the stretch. That should tell you everything you need to know about how their pitching staff has performed recently. During September, Yankees pitchers have compiled a 5.15 ERA.
CC Sabathia has a 5.40 ERA in September. Hiroki Kuroda's ERA is 5.11. Freddy Garcia has an 8.31 mark. Phil Hughes had a 5.73 ERA, but after pitching 7.1 scoreless innings on Thursday, that number has gone down to 3.48.
So if Pettitte can be anything close to the pitcher who posted a 3.22 ERA and struck out 59 batters in 58.1 innings during his nine previous starts this season, he would obviously be a tremendous help for the Yankees.
But that's the question the Yankees face with Pettitte. Can he be that pitcher as he comes back from injury? Prior to the announcement, Pettitte said he was ready to pitch but in a limited capacity.
“Can I give you 100 pitches? No," Pettitte told the New York Daily News' Roger Rubin. "But I feel like my stuff has been crisp.”
While Pettitte's stamina is in question, his command isn't. As The Journal News' Chad Jennings noted, Pettitte said that he's been able to locate his pitches, adding to his confidence.
If Pettitte is limited to 65-75 pitches, he should be able to pitch approximately five innings. As Girardi told reporters, including MLB.com's Bryan Hoch, that should be enough for the team. David Phelps, who will be bumped to the bullpen when Pettitte returns, would take over once Pettitte reaches his pitch count.
Since Phelps has a 5.65 ERA in September, however, the Yankees will surely cross their fingers and hope that Pettitte pitches efficiently enough to go relatively deep into the ballgame. If Pettitte pitches well and is able to resume a regular pitching rotation, he would be scheduled to make three more starts before season's end—versus the Oakland Athletics, Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.
It's amazing to consider that this is what it's come to for the Yanks as they battle with the Baltimore Orioles for the AL East title or a wild card playoff spot.
A 40-year-old pitcher who appeared to be retired and didn't play at all last year becomes a surprise signing in spring training. He joins the team late enough that his preseason has to be extended into May.
After mediocre tune-up starts for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, Pettitte rejoins the Yankees' major league starting rotation. Then the old guy shows that he still has something left in nine starts before suffering a broken fibula.
Now, Pettitte could end up helping to save the Yankees' 2012 season. None of the prologue for Pettitte would matter if he can come through for them one last time, when the team needs him most. No one—especially certain baseball writers—would squawk about Cashman making a big mistake by not acquiring a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Pettitte would bail his GM out and even make him look smart for not panicking.
The left-hander's return from retirement and late beginning to his season would only be amusing footnotes in what would end up as one of the great baseball stories of the year. Although it would probably help if Pettitte could hit too, as the Yankees are batting .236 as a team thus far into September.
The Yankees would be content with some good pitching from their long-time veteran hurler instead. But that story needs to get off to a good start Tuesday against the Blue Jays. Suddenly, that's become one of the most important games of the season.
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