The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
ANDY PETTITTE (5-4, 2.87 ERA)
When the announcement was made last March that Andy Pettitte was coming back to the Yankees to pitch, the euphoria was palpable.
After a year in retirement, Pettitte was determined to pitch again. The story was supposed to go that Pettitte would pitch great, he would lead the team to the playoffs and help them win their 28th world championship. However, that script landed in the dustbin after Pettitte ended up getting injured along the way.
On June 27, Pettitte was struck in the right ankle with a ball off the bat of Casey Kotchman of the Cleveland Indians. It was only his ninth start of the season and the injury would shelve him until mid-September. The Yankees did make the playoffs and Pettitte helped them make it to the American League Championship Series.
However, the Yankees’ offense decided to sleep in and missed the series.
Immediately, Pettitte’s return in 2013 was in doubt. But, fortunately for the Yankees, Pettitte decided he still had some unfinished business and he was signed to a one-year, $12 million contract at age 40.
The numbers Pettitte produced when he was healthy last season certainly backed up his decision. His ERA was excellent at 2.87 and six of his 12 starts were quality starts. The biggest surprise was jump in Pettitte’s strikeout rate.
Last season, Pettitte struck out 69 batters in 75 1/3 innings. At that rate, Pettitte would have topped 200 Ks for the first time in his long and storied career. It is not that Pettitte had gained velocity or came up with a new pitch. It is just that he was pitching smarter and he was able to keep batters off balance.
Heading into the 2013 season, there are a lot of things that are breaking to Pettitte’s favor. For one, Pettitte will enter spring camp from the first day and be ready to pitch when the season begins instead of his May 13 debut last season.
In addition, Pettitte already knows he can get major-league hitters out, which is something he did not know last season after sitting out the 2011 season.
Pettitte is also a valuable commodity as a veteran left-handed starter in an American League with a lot of powerful left-handed hitters.
One thing about Pettitte that sets him apart from any other pitcher is his fierce competitiveness. It is – and has been throughout his career – a blessing. But it also can be a curse.
Last season, Pettitte was feeling frisky during his rehab and pushed his workouts past what the doctors had prescribed. He ended up paying for it by extending his rehab a few weeks. Sometimes Pettitte also can be own worst enemy.
The key to Pettitte’s 2013 season looks to be maintaining his health and stamina throughout the long grind of a season. Pettitte pitched into the sixth inning or better in each of his first eight starts before he was injured. But he finished six innings only once in his final three starts.
With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda ahead of him in the rotation, Pettitte will form what will be a pretty formidable top tier of starters. Those three combined to go 36-21 with a 3.27 ERA. With a much tougher American League and stiffer competition in the A.L. East, this is threesome manager Joe Girardi can count on to meet the challenge.
They will have to because the Yankees’ offense did take a major hit this winter with the departures of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones.
With Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez on the roster the Yankees might be looking to reintroduce more of a running game in 2013 with a lot of bunting, hit and runs and taking chances on the bases instead of waiting on the home run.
It could mean that the Yankees will have to settle for fewer runs and that puts a lot more pressure on the starting pitchers to keep the other team from putting the game out of reach. But Pettitte seems to up to that challenge.
If he can limit his pitch counts and make it deep into games, the Yankees stand a good chance of winning more than their fair share of them.
Pettitte enters the 2013 season with a career record of 245 wins and 142 losses (.633 winning percentage) and career ERA of 3.86. He has 208 career wins as a Yankees, which is third behind Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).
To Pettitte, those numbers are nice but they are not numbers he cares too much about. If the Hall of Fame should come calling he would be honored. But he does not expect it and need it to validate his career.
But his postseason numbers of 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA are something of which he is very proud. No pitcher in the modern postseason era has started (44) and won as many games as Pettitte. Last season he was 0-1 with a 3.29 ERA in his two starts. Victory eluded him because the Yankees did not score very many runs in the postseason.
But Pettitte understands that if the Yankees do make the playoffs and he does his job the way he expects to do it the Yankees have an excellent shot of winning most of the time.
This likely will be his last season and the Yankees would love to make sure the three members of what was the “Core Four,” Petitte, Jeter and Mariano Rivera have a chance to play for a world championship.
Nothing would be sweeter for the Yankees and nothing would be sweeter for Pettitte than having that chance one last time.
NEXT: PHIL HUGHES