Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 3/28/12
TAMPA The Tampa Bay Rays have reason to feel optimistic about a rotation that now features a pair of heat-throwing lefthanders in David Price and Matt Moore. But dont look now here come the New York Yankees, with their own matching set of stellar southpaws: All-Star ace CC Sabathia and newly unretired Andy Pettitte. Pettittes surprise return to the game, following a year away from it, upgrades an already impressive New York starting five. And the 39-year-old Texan took another small step forward Tuesday afternoon beneath the blazing sun on Field 2 outside Steinbrenner Field. With manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild watching closely, Pettitte pitched his second bullpen session of the spring in the past five days. He was admittedly a bit tired after throwing 35 pitches pausing midway through the session for a breather and a cup of Gatorade but the verdict was another positive one. It was good, I felt good, he told the crowd of reporters who had also watched him throw. Its just another step in the process. That process began barely a week ago when the longtime Yankee standout and 16-year major leaguer announced he was coming back, after retiring in 2011 to spend more time with his family. That has given the Yankees a sudden and unexpected boost heading the 2012 season, with a staff that also features promising additions Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, along with established starters Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova. That abundance of pitching talent has forced starter Freddy Garcia into the bullpen a road the Rays also followed this week in moving starter Wade Davis to a relief role due to their own wealth of arms. The question is whether Pettitte can replicate the success he had in 13 seasons with the Yankees, sandwiched around three years with the Astros (2004-06). He retired in 2010 after posting an 11-3 mark and 3.28 ERA, capping a distinguished career with a 240-138 record and 3.88 ERA, a pair of 21-8 seasons and 2,251 strikeouts. Understandably, the Yankees are delighted to have him back in the fold but are taking things slowly. Still, Girardi is encouraged by what hes seen. I thought he looked pretty good, he said. He was able to throw everything where for the most part he wanted to. Another batting practice or simulated game session could follow in two days, and then the skipper sees Pettitte pitching in one of the final spring training games on the schedule, possibly Wednesday in Tampa against the Mets, with a potential regular-season return in May. I think you just have to go with how he feels and I hate to give a date, because if hes not quite ready to go, then people might put up a red flag, Girardi said. For now, Pettitte is on track for a guy who spent a year away from baseball. His pitches showed good movement as he faced outfielder Nick Swisher, gradually working his way back from a groin injury, and outfielder Chris Dickerson. He threw 20 pitches from the windup before Girardi rolled the protective screen away, with 15 more pitches coming from the stretch. I didnt feel quite as sharp out of the stretch as I did out of the windup I need some work there, he said. But it was a good day, a positive day and a step in the right direction. Id be lying if I didnt say (my legs) got a little fatigued. This is what Im trying to do trying to get to where I can drive and explode 100 pitches. Im a long way from there. Even the last three or four pitches I threw, if you just land not quite as strong on that front side, the ball just might be off this much. Its all part of the process. What has Pettitte been encouraged by most so far as the process unfolds? Im surprised that my command has been so good, from the first pen I threw down here, he said. It took me so long to make this decision, but I felt like I could get back to where I was. So if I dont get there, Im going to be extremely disappointed. It just seems like everythings coming back to me really good, he added. And when Swish tells you (the ball) is moving really good, that makes you feel good. He said my four-seamer was riding and my sinker was running. Those are all important things that I need. Pettittes presence could be just what the Yankee rotation needs, adding some additional competitive juice to the revamped staff. If you dont want somebody to take your job, pitch that way; its really simple, Girardi said earlier in the week. Lets say the job was given to you and you were struggling; theyre going to look for someone to give the job to. You have to produce. Thats the world we live in in New York. Its not like, Youre this guy and were going to give you 20 starts no matter what happens. We dont live in that world here. If Pettitte hits his old stride, the rotation could be dominant. There are the two promising newcomers: Pineda, the 6-7, 265-pound righty acquired from Seattle in the off-season after a 9-10, 3.74 ERA rookie year on a bad ball club; and Kuroda, the former Dodger who signed a one-year deal after a 13-16, 3.01 ERA season. Hughes, meanwhile, is coming off a rough 5-5, 5.79 season a year after his 18-8, 4.19 showing of 2010. Hes had a good spring, edging out Garcia for a rotation spot. And Nova is hoping to build on a standout rookie campaign in which he went 16-4 with an ERA of 3.70. Then theres the anchor, Sabathia, who was 19-8 and 3.00 and is 59-23 with a 3.18 ERA in three seasons with the Yankees. Surrounded by such good company, Pettitte cant wait to put himself through the next meaningful test, on the mound in an exhibition game. Im excited to get into a game whenever I can, and whenever that is, he said. Thatll be the key to get into a game situation. It doesnt matter whos in there, as long as its not my players. Youre worried about hitting them. So just an opponent thats not my team thats when you really get your good work in. But even throwing BP, Pettittes work has been plenty good so far.
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