NY Yankees: Why Pettitte Has Already Earned Start in Possible 1-Game Playoff

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2012

Andy Pettitte hasn't allowed a run in his two most recent starts.
Andy Pettitte hasn't allowed a run in his two most recent starts.Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

The New York Yankees surely hoped Andy Pettitte would return to become a key part of their starting rotation once he recovered from a broken leg. 

But even the Yanks—and perhaps Pettitte himself—have to be surprised by the results of his first two starts since being activated from the disabled list. Pettitte hasn't allowed a run over 11 innings, giving up 11 hits and three walks while striking out six batters.

Yes, Pettitte faced the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins in those two appearances, both last place teams (or near last, in the Twins' case) in their respective divisions. However, the Blue Jays and Twins are each in the middle third of the MLB in runs scored. It's not like Pettitte faced the Seattle Mariners and the Houston Astros

Anyone who questioned whether a 40-year-old Pettitte could still be effective after coming back from injury and facing major league competition without pitching any rehab starts (I would place myself in this group) likely doesn't have such doubts anymore. 

Pettitte will almost certainly be part of the Yankees' playoff rotation. The question might be whether he lines up in the third spot behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda or is the fourth starter after Phil Hughes. 

However, Pettitte could be called upon to take on a far more important role for the Yankees in the week to come. If he stays on his current rotation, the left-hander will have one more start on Saturday (Sept. 29) against the Blue Jays. (it could be interesting to see how he fares against Toronto the second time around.) 

Following a five-day schedule, Pettitte would then be slated to pitch on Oct. 4. There is no game for the Yankees that Thursday unless they have to play a one-game tiebreaker for the AL East title.

Pettitte would surely be pushed back to that game. 

Yankees manager Joe Girardi could save Sabathia for either a one-game tiebreaker or a wild-card playoff. But saving him for Game 1 of the divisional series (and possibly having him available for two starts) is probably the better move. 

This is an excellent development for the Yankees, no matter what the team ultimately decides.

The Yanks have their No. 1 ace available for a do-or-die playoff; but they can also put their longtime veteran on the mound who's pitched several crucial postseason games throughout his career. 

Most recently, Pettitte pitched the Game 6 clincher in the 2009 World Series that gave the Yankees their 27th championship. He also pitched the decisive Game 6 of the ALCS that postseason.  

If the Yankees have to face the Orioles in a AL East tiebreaker, several writers and broadcasters might cite his 27-6 record and 3.52 ERA in 40 starts against the O's. That would be largely irrelevant, however, since those appearances weren't against this current Baltimore team. 

A better gauge might be Pettitte's most recent starts against Baltimore in 2010. He went 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA, but two starts isn't much of a sample size from which to draw a conclusion. 

Regardless, Pettitte facing whomever the Orioles might pitch in a tiebreaker—Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson or Wei-Yei Chen—is likely a good matchup for the Yankees, no matter how well those starters have performed. 

If the Yankees face the Oakland Athletics in a wild-card playoff, Pettitte's history is even less conclusive. Yes, he's 11-6 with a 3.35 ERA in 21 starts vs. the A's, but he hasn't pitched against the them since 2009 and Oakland has a completely different team now. We're talking about a total roster overhaul. 

But if the playoff were to take place at O.co Coliseum, past information might be a bit more relevant. Pettitte has a 4-3 record and a 3.57 ERA in 10 starts there. Even if he faced different batters and lineups in those 10 games, the ballpark itself is a factor in Pettitte's record. 

"It’s the same old Andy. We’ve seen it for years," Girardi told reporters after Pettitte's start on Monday (Sept. 24). "When he needs a double play, he finds a way to get it.

"He’s been in so many situations, he’s able to relax and not make too much of one hitter. It has a lot to do with poise. He’s got a lot of poise.”

Girardi said it himself there. He would have no problem pitching Pettitte in a one-game playoff if it comes to that for the Yankees. Pettitte has certainly pitched well enough since returning from injury to have earned the nod as well. 


Follow @iancass on Twitter