Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Attempting To Predict Andy's Return Date

Andy Pettitte is coming. While the 5 guys currently in the rotation work to find their games and get where they need to be, the fact remains that Pettitte, barring injury, is going to be ready to join the rotation at some point in the near future. With the way his first 2 comeback/rehab starts have gone, and yes I say this knowing full well they were against High-A hitters, it looks like that date is going to come sooner rather than later. Pettitte has been effective and efficient in both of his first 2 starts, throwing 79 pitches in 7 total innings of work, and according to scouts who were on-hand to watch him Sunday, his stuff progressed very nicely from the 1st start to the 2nd. With all of that in mind, let's have a little fun and try to figure out exactly when Andy might make his return.

Joe has said already that he envisions Andy making 5 or 6 starts as part of his extended ST to build his arm and leg strength up to game shape, and he said last Sunday that he considered Andy's Sunday outing to be number 2 in that series. Andy's pitch count was 25 in his first outing and he threw 32, and it was reportedly somewhere around 45 Sunday and he threw 47. That number is still nowhere near the level he will need to be stretched out to in order to be an effective starter at the Major League level, so I think it's a safe bet to assume he will make the additional 4 starts that were a part of the plan before the Yankees even consider bringing him back. Joe also said yesterday that the plan was for Andy's pitch count to increase by about 15 in his next outing.

Considering those bits of info, and the fact that Andy received an extra day of rest between start 1 and start 2, it will be important to balance out the expected increases in pitch count over these next 4 starts while getting him back onto a regular rest cycle, which appears to be the plan heading into his next scheduled start on Friday. Combining all these factors together into a pitching plan for the remainder of his starts, I anticipate we will see something like this:
  • 3rd Start: April 20th- Regular Rest- Pitch Count of 60-70 Pitches
  • 4th Start: April 25th- Regular Rest- Pitch Count of 75-80 Pitches
  • 5th Start: April 30th- Regular Rest- Pitch Count of 85-90 Pitches
  • 6th Start: May 5th- Regular Rest- Pitch Count of 95-100 Pitches
This schedule would allow Andy to stretch out to a full pitch count that he can work under in the Majors and would set him up to be available to make his Yankee debut on May 10th. This would be an ideal scenario for him, as the Yankees' opponent that day is scheduled to be the light-hitting Mariners and the game is at home. Assuming Andy's last rehab start(s) will be for Trenton, a safe assumption to make given that their game on May 5th is a home game and that Pettitte himself said he would "for sure" be pitching for Trenton at some point, that makes travel and preparation for his first official comeback start much easier.

If the Yankees do decide to use the 5-day rest schedule at some point for Pettitte to make sure he is able to fully recover from a start, a scenario that is possible given Pettitte's age and recent injury history, the dates in the above timeline get pushed back a bit, which would line him up to start on May 11th rather than the 10th, assuming he only misses one extra day. Interestingly enough, Phil Hughes would be the scheduled starting pitcher for the Yankees on May 11th if they stay on their current 5-man rotation schedule and don't mess with the order at all due to off days or weather-related cancellations. Of all the current rotation members, Hughes has been the least effective so far and certainly has the most work to do to justify his spot in the rotation. With his recent history of ineffectiveness and past successes in the bullpen, inserting Pettitte into Hughes' rotation spot and bumping Hughes to the bullpen would be the simplest and easiest move to make without disrupting the rest of the rotation order. The question would remain of what to do with Hughes, but that's a question for another post.

Yes, this post assumes a lot of things going according to plan, but factoring out all the unknowns and focusing on just the scheduling logistics, I think May 10th-11th at The Stadium would be the best bet for Andy's return. It follows the Yankees usual strategy of using home games against lesser opponents to work key guys back into the lineup, and from a marketing/PR standpoint it's a dream scenario. There's still a lot that has to happen before then, and plenty of opportunities for Hughes and the rest of his rotation mates (really only Nova and Garcia) to pitch well enough to justify their spots. As I said last month, I don't think Andy should be served a spot on a silver platter if everybody is pitching well. But with the way Hughes and Garcia are throwing the ball early, they're really going to have to wow the decision makers to hold of Andy if he keeps pitching well. And if you've got tickets for May 10th or 11th, you could be sitting on a ticket to history.

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