Monday, May 7, 2012

How "Ready" Is Andy Pettitte?

(Courtesy of The AP)

Far be it for me to question Andy Pettitte about his preparedness to join the Yankee rotation.  After all, he's done this for over 15 years and probably knows his body and his conditioning better than anybody, and my 3-year Little League career included no more than 5 legitimate hits at the plate and more HBPs than strikeouts on the mound.  But I have to admit that Pettitte's no-nonsense declaration that he was ready to join the rotation and implication that he expected to be called up this week raised at least one of my eyebrows, especially with the lines he's put up in his last 2 starts.

On Sunday, Andy pitched 5 innings for Triple-A Empire State, the first time he faced this high a level of competition on his comeback tour.  In those 5 innings, he allowed 5 runs (3 earned) on 8 hits and 2 walks, striking out 5 batters and throwing 92 pitches in the process.  Some defensive shenanigans inflated his line a bit, as infielders Steve Pearce and Brandon Laird both botched plays in the first 2 innings, but it was hardly a smooth outing for Pettitte.  This start comes on the heels of his previous start, a 5.2-inning Ext. ST outing that saw him give up 5 ER on 10 hits.  The general feeling right now is that Pettitte's velocity on his pitches is right where he wants it to be, but his command of his offspeed stuff isn't all the way there.  If that's the case, then I have to ask, why not give him another rehab start?

Maybe I'm just misremembering here, but I don't recall Andy ever being as blunt as he was in his comments after his outing yesterday.  He doesn't strike me as a guy who would use the word "inevitable" to describe his return to the rotation after giving up 5 runs on 10 combined hits and walks in just 5 innings of work, especially when he's over a year removed from active competition as a Major League pitcher and can openly admit that his command is not where he wants it to be.  Andy has always been very honest when it comes to assessing his performance, and it surprises me to read that he thinks it's time to come up when his game isn't completely where he wants it to be.

I could be overanalyzing this, but based on the results of his last 2 starts, I think it's in the best interests of Andy and the Yankees to give him one more chance to work on finding his offspeed command.  I know the numbers aren't supposed to matter when dealing with situations like this, but in Andy's case and for what he was signed to do, I feel like they should matter to a certain degree.  Having to battle your way through 5 innings against Triple-A hitters could turn into getting knocked out of the game in 2 or 3 against a good Major League lineup, especially when you don't have a great feel for all your pitches.  And that's not the kind of result the Yankees need in their rotation.  They've already had to deal with those outings too much for my liking this season.

Andy said the Yankees aren't expecting him to come up and give them 7-8 shutout innings every game, and that's true.  But they also aren't expecting him to come up and give them 5 innings of 5-run ball every time.  They're already getting that from almost everybody else in the rotation without an initialed first name.  Andy was brought in to be an upgrade over a rotation option, not just a replacement, and the rotation isn't nearly as in need of his services as it was a week or so ago.  Freddy Garcia is out of the rotation and David Phelps is in, and Phil Hughes has looked much better in his last 2 outings.  They've each earned themselves one more go through the rotation, and that turn gives the Yankees time to give Andy one more tune-up start.

We all want to see the best Andy Pettitte possible, right?  So what's the harm in giving him one more chance to build up some arm strength, leg strength, and find his offspeed command?  He may very well be ready to pitch for the team right now, but if another no-pressure game allows him to better harness his command, then he's set to enter the rotation even more ready.

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