Are the New York Yankees Asking Too Much of Andy Pettitte?

Phil Watson@FurtherReviewCorrespondent ISeptember 18, 2012

FLUSHING, NY - JUNE 22:  Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees delivers a pitch in the first inning of an interleague game against the New York Mets on June 22, 2012 at Citi Field in Flushing, New York.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

NOTE: Updated to reflect Tuesday night postponement.

At age 40, lefthander Andy Pettitte surely never thought he’d be looked to as the guy to save the New York Yankees’ 2012 season.

After all, we’re talking about a guy who didn’t pitch at all in 2011, a guy who retired and thought he’d had enough.

But Pettitte came back this season and, outside of a shaky first start, looked solid while posting a 3-3 record with a 3.22 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in his first nine starts. Then there was that fateful meeting between a hard grounder off the bat of Cleveland Indians’ first baseman Casey Kotchman and the Pettitte's left ankle during his start at Yankee Stadium on June 27.

Pettitte will return to the same mound Wednesday afternoon when he faces the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of a day-night doubleheader, a start that comes after not throwing a pitch in anything more than a simulated game in nearly three months.

Pettitte was originally slated to make his return Tuesday night but the game was postponed because of inclement weather.

Manager Joe Girardi told on Sunday that Pettitte is only going to throw about 70 pitches in his return, a byproduct of the minor league season being over and Pettitte not being able to go down and make one or two rehab starts.

Is it fair to ask Pettitte to save the season? Without Pettitte, the Yankees built a lead that really should have been insurmountable by mid-July, standing 10 games clear of the Baltimore Orioles and 10.5 in front of the Tampa Bay Rays on July 18.

Then the Orioles and Rays got hot. And the Yankees? Well, they didn’t. September has been a nip-and-tuck battle with the O’s while the Rays have faded just a bit.

While New York enjoyed its last off day of the regular season on Monday, Baltimore walloped the Mariners in Seattle, 10-4 to pull to within half a game of the Yankees.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, lost for the sixth time in seven games—5-2 to the Boston Red Sox in St. Petersburg, Fla.—and now trail the Yankees by 5.5 games.

It’s got to be a big emotional boost for the Yankees to get Pettitte back. He’s a proven October warrior with 42 postseason starts and a 19-10 record in the playoffs. The 19 wins, 42 starts and 263 innings pitched are the most in Major League history.

Provided there are no setbacks with his ankle, Pettitte would make four starts before the end of the regular season, including the season finale against the Red Sox on Oct. 3. That’s four opportunities to build his pitch count tolerance before the playoffs begin—assuming the Yankees get that far.

Pettitte’s return also moves David Phelps out of the rotation. Along with the return of Ivan Nova on Saturday from the disabled list, New York's rotation is getting healthy at the right time.

The schedule is not terribly daunting from here on in for the Yankees.

Outside of a three-game set Friday through Sunday at the Stadium against the wild-card leading Oakland Athletics, New York would seem to be in a prime position to right the ship.

They can build some momentum for the playoffs, finally put away the remarkable Orioles—one of baseball’s best stories in 2012—and try to see if this group can make some more of that October magic—Pettitte’s specialty—happen this fall.