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Palladino: Pettitte’s Mother’s Day More A Present For Girardi

Andy Pettitte (credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Andy Pettitte (credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Andy Pettitte’s wife and three of his four kids — one son was playing high school ball — were in Yankee Stadium on Mother’s Day to witness the 39-year-old’s 2012 debut.

And sure, his decent performance must have warmed the heart of his Texas kin, especially wife Laura, it probably did more than that for Yankees manager Joe Girardi. It undoubtedly provided a glimmer of hope for a rotation that the jury remains out on.

Oh, it’s true that Phil Hughes may well have found his way after his strongest outing of a rocky early season Saturday, pitching two outs into the eighth inning while allowing just one run on six hits and a walk against the Mariners. Combine that with his previous start against the Royals, and Hughes has allowed just four earned runs in his last 14 1/3 innings.

But Girardi needed more than that heading into Mother’s Day. He needed for Pettitte to put up a representative effort, something that would justify his being here, and continuance of that status, after a bunch of statistically unattractive minor league starts.

The 39-year-old left-hander had to show command of his pitches as well as the confident mound presence Pettitte offered his 13 previous seasons in pinstripes. Even before he walked away for a year, you had the feeling that even if he struggled, he had the mechanical and mental wherewithal to weather an onslaught.

On Sunday, he proved he still does. Oh, he took the loss in the 6-2 Mariners win as he watched Justin Smoak and Casper Wells make pitches in the fourth and sixth innings disappear for two-run homers. But that was about all he gave up before he handed things over to Cory Wade took over with one out in the seventh.

Pettitte wound up allowing seven hits and three walks while striking out two. But his early innings were strong, giving rise to the notion that he still has something worthy of a rotation spot left in the tank. The Mariners managed just one hit off him the first four innings.

Pettitte later said he felt no rust and was very comfortable on the mound despite a year of throwing BP to Pony League kids. And for a long time Sunday, he looked it.

He chalked up the homers to carelessness, not rust, which is his way. But one can take from that outing that once he truly gets settled in with battery mate Russell Martin, things will improve. And the next time we’ll have to worry about Andy Pettitte will come in September, when his aged arm is likely to wear down.

Until then, though, Girardi can consider himself the recipient of the one present he’s wanted since the old lefty began facing hitters again in Class A and extended spring training.

He had trouble getting the four-seamer in on righthanders, an issue that carried over from his minor league starts.

Assuming the cutter, the curve, and the fastball continue to work as they did Sunday, Girardi could have reliable entities at the top and back of the rotation. Working every five days will help get his command and location in order.

A little offense would help, too. But that’s how things go in baseball.

For now, Girardi has true hope that Pettitte can stabilize a rotation behind CC Sabathia that, in at least Hughes’ case, appears to be finding its way after a rocky start.

All that will be left is for the middle — Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda, and Hughes — to keep up their end of the bargain.

What did you take from Andy’s start? Be heard in the comments below…