By James Ward
» More Columns
When Bryce Harper was born on October 16th, 1992, Andy Pettitte had just finished an impressive season for the Greensboro Hornets, the Yankees class A affiliate in ’92. A few of Pettitte’s teammates were Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Shane Spencer. Another indication of the age difference between the two; Pettitte’s oldest son is only two years younger than Harper.
Saturday afternoon, Pettitte and the Yanks squared off against Harper and the Nats, and Pettitte made sure it was an afternoon Harper wouldn’t forget. Pettitte struck out the 19-year old in each of his first three trips to the plate and got him to line out to center field in the 7th in his fourth at bat. All three strikeouts were swinging on the same pitch, a low cutter, and Harper looked more frustrated with each swing and miss.
Harper finished the game 0-for-7 with five strikeouts, three against Pettitte and one against Clay Rapada and Freddy Garcia. The 14-inning marathon was Harper’s worst game as a pro, and possibly the worst game of his baseball life since the phenom has only known success.
When Pettitte announced he was coming back during spring training this year, no one had any idea what he could contribute to the club. Although he was very good in 2010, his last season before retirement, he missed two months of the season with a groin injury.
Even Pettitte is surprised with his performance. With Suzyn Waldman on the WCBS Yankees Pregame Show before Saturday’s game, Pettitte admitted that he didn’t anticipate going this deep in the game right away. He is averaging almost seven innings per start and has pitched into the eighth inning four times.
Pettitte has never been a strikeout pitcher, but this year he is striking out almost a batter an inning. For much of his career, Pettitte has relied heavily on his cutter. Although he still refers to the pitch as a cutter, this season the pitch looks and moves much more like a slider. With a little less velocity, the ball dives like a slider and gives Pettitte more swinging strikes than in previous seasons. He got Harper to swing and miss seven times on the hybrid pitch.
Through seven starts, Pettitte has given the Yankees more than they could have ever expected. If Pettitte stays healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t keep it up. He has always been a ‘bend but not break’ pitcher that survived on guile and guts, but with the way he’s throwing his cutter/slider, he now has a bona fide strikeout pitch.
Will Pettitte continue his winning ways? Leave a comment below.