Originally posted on Full Spectrum Baseball  |  Last updated 9/20/12

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was hopping for five innings and 70 pitches from the return of Andy Pettitte.

Boy, did he get more.

After a three-month stint on the disabled list, the veteran left-hander looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. In the first leg of a day-night doubleheader against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, Pettitte gave Girardi five scoreless frames, 75 pitches and a 4-2 win. Pettitte helped to snap the Yankees’ tie atop the American League East with the Orioles, which has become progressively harder as the season has gone on.

“That doesn’t mean [Pettitte] didn’t lobby to go back out there,” Girardi said of Pettitte’s pitch limit. “He said, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ But I told him, ‘We’re not going to hurt you in the first start; that would be silly.’”

That would be Johan Santana.

Girardi continued, “He gave us everything that we asked for — probably a few more pitches than we wanted him to throw. Let’s leave it at that.”

Making his first appearance since a comebacker fractured his left fibula on June 27, Pettitte appeared to be finished after four innings. The 40-year-old was at 68 pitches and Derek Lowe was warming in the Yankees’ bullpen. Pettitte returned though for one more frame. Pulling out all the stops, he retired the side in order (for the first time all day), needing only seven pitches to do so. He left to applause from the sparse crowd a day after inclement weather forced the postponement of the lefty’s anticipated return.

“I think that extra layoff I had actually probably hurt me, as far as how my body felt [and] my legs and stamina,” Pettitte said. “But all in all, it was good. I was able to get through it and make pitches when I had to get out of some innings.”

Girardi had to rely heavy on his bullpen during the matinée, but that had nothing to do with Pettitte. Pettitte’s pitch count was New York’s worst kept secret. He only allowed four hits and walked two batters. This was while facing competition for the first time since his injury.

The lefty rehabbed with simulated games since the Minor League seasons ended before he was ready to take a mound. Pettitte said that while there were no nerves in his return, he struggled with whether the Blue Jays would plan to take more pitches than usual simply to elevate his pitch count. Pettitte’s doubts proved unfounded. He improved to 4-3 and lowered his ERA to 2.97 in his 10th start since coming out of retirement.

With a tiring bullpen, the Yankees need reliable starting pitching to take them into October. Pettitte struck out the first batter he faced, Rajai Davis, on four pitches. He was locating his fastball, slider and cutter, though he felt he had better command in bullpen sessions and simulated games. He finished with three strikeouts, throwing 46 strikes and stranding five runners on base. Pettitte escaped a jam with runners on the corners in the second inning and induced a key double-play grounder to end the third.

“You have confidence in Andy because he knows how to get that double-play ball or the strikeout and make the big pitch,” Girardi said. “You know he’s not going to be overwhelmed by the situation. I was probably more nervous when I saw him running around a little bit than when he was on the mound.”

Pettitte reported no negative effects on his left ankle, saying that he was 100 percent healthy. He needed only to rebuild his leg strength and stamina with more running. Girardi estimated Pettitte would throw 85-90 pitches in his next start, scheduled for next week at Minnesota. If Pettitte can go deeper in the game, his coming off the disabled list could be the best pick-up the Yankees made this season.

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