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Yankees Look to Andy Pettitte to Guide Them to Playoffs, Just Like Old Times

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Yankees Look to Andy Pettitte to Guide Them to Playoffs, Just Like Old Times
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Andy Pettitte takes the hill tonight at the Stadium ready to elevate the Yankees game and propel them into the 2012 MLB Playoffs.

The Yankees have always relied heavily on the powerful left arm of Andy Pettitte and starting tomorrow afternoon, they'll call on one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history to help lead them back to the promised land once again.

Following a nearly three-month hiatus, Andy Pettitte will make his long-awaited 10th start of the season Wednesday in the first-leg of a doubleheader at 1:05pm against Toronto, hoping to recapture the form he had earlier in this season. Truth be told, Pettitte was off to one of the most dominant seasons of his 17-year career.

This all-time great, who has 243 career wins and 19 career postseason wins—the most in MLB history— has held hitters to the lowest batting average in a single season during his career. Granted, this has come in a much smaller sample size, but Pettitte's strikeouts have been way up and his walk count has been down.

Andy Dandy has been both deceptive and accurate, all while the speed on his nasty two-seam fastball has diminished with age. He's adapted exceptionally well to the loss of velocity on his pitches and become more of a crafty locator that continues to study hitters' strengths and weaknesses.

According to Pitch F/X data, Pettitte has relied much more heavily on his cut fastball in 2012, in proportion to his slider, four-seam fastball and curveball. Pettitte has confounded right-handed batters and particularly lefties, holding the latter to a low .551 OPS.

Pettitte is expected to have a 70-pitch limit, which could mean anywhere as good as 5-to-6 innings pitched and anywhere as bad as 3-to-4 innings. Much will depend on the tall lefty’s ability to pound the strike zone and get Toronto's hitters to put the ball in play.

How will Andy Pettitte fare over his final four starts?

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Pettitte has an abnormally high strikeouts per nine innings ratio this season—albeit in a small sample size—that happens to be the highest of his borderline Hall-of-Fame career. In his first start back, in order to find longevity, Pettitte will need to pitch to contact with his cutter to get Blue Jay hitters to put balls in play.

Pettitte gave all of baseball every reason to believe that he still has it and that he may in fact—in his twilight years—still be at the top of his game. Two of the Texas native’s first five starts this season have been two of the best of his whole career.

An eight-inning, nine-strikeout gem against Cincinnati in just his second start back and a dominating 10-strikeout performance against the Rays on June 5 put MLB hitters on warning. 

Yankee fans have been looking at Pettitte’s return as the spark necessary to jumpstart what has been a relatively moribund second half of the season for the Bombers—until lately. New York has gotten warm, not hot, and two straight series victories against Boston and Tampa Bay were just what the doctor ordered.

Pettitte is pitching for the chance to reach yet another postseason with the Yankees and for the opportunity to start what would likely be a Game 3 or Game 4 of the American League Division Series.

So what can be expected from Pettitte?

Reports are that the veteran looked extremely sharp while pitching simulated games to Yankee hitters over the past few weeks. This is the time of the year where general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi realize they need to roll the dice a bit.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Yankees would love to see their veteran lefty atop a float for another parade come October.

 

Pettitte hasn’t been rushed back though his rehabilitation schedule was certainly accelerated somewhat, given the circumstances. The Yankees are fighting for a playoff spot and Pettitte needs to get several starts during the regular season to prove he can pitch in a big playoff game, assuming the Yankees get there.

Barring any setbacks, Pettitte should be on turn to make four more starts for the Bombers, including two against Toronto and the season finale at the Stadium on October 3. As long as his leg is healed, his left arm should be in great condition to keep the Yankees in contention to win all four games he pitches. 

Yankee fans can practically recite the hugest games of Pettitte’s career off the top of their head. Game 5 of the 1996 World Series in Atlanta during a 1-0 Yankees victory. Games 2 and 6 of the 2009 World Series, the latter to close out the Phillies on short rest on a cold October night at the Stadium.

A dominating Game 4 World Series clinching performance in San Diego, again, not surrendering a single run.

Andy Pettitte is a Yankee through-and-through, and the magnitude of the moment and the pressure have never gotten to him. Yankee fans are hoping that the same warrior that has taken the mound with pride, grit and class all of these years, will be right back on Wednesday afternoon in winning form. 

Ready to lead the Yankees back into the postseason once again for a chance at another ring.

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