Pettitte the lynch pin for Yankees

Andy Pettitte will be a key figure for the Yankees in the post-season. (REUTERS)

Andy Pettitte will be a key figure for the Yankees in the post-season. (REUTERS)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:12 PM ET

The Evil Empire comes to town for a four-game visit and, if all goes right, they could find themselves popping champagne corks in their tussle with the Baltimore Orioles for the American League East crown.

The season has been a struggle for the Bronx Bombers since their 10-game lead atop the division evaporated in July and August.

The Yankees, like just about every other team in the big leagues this season, has had their share of problems and misery.

They have lost key players for large chucks of the season led by their all-world closer Mariano Rivera. Other stars on the team to pop up on the disabled list from time to time have been OF Brett Gardiner, lefty ace CC Sabathia, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira.

It is the one player who has come back following a two-month absence, however, that could mean the most and that is the return of veteran left-handed starter Andy Pettitte, who missed the time after fracturing his ankle.

Pettitte’s presence at this juncture is huge and on Saturday he will be on the mound for his third and final regular-season start since his return.

In his two starts since coming back, Pettitte has not allowed a run, holding the Jays and the Twins to 11 combined hits over 12 innings. He has also walked three and struck out six.

Pettitte’s goal is to sharpen his stuff, his command and build arm strength to enable him to take his spot in the rotation back of CC Sabathia when the playoff bell rings.

A Yankees rotation with just Sabathia and friends seemed vulnerable at best, but the added presence of Pettitte and all of his post-season experience gives the Yankees a solid one-two punch against whomever they meet.

“There’s nothing that fazes him,” outfielder Nick Swisher said following his start against the Twins. “Takes a full year off, comes back, breaks his foot on a crazy play, has been itching to get back in the lineup for a long time. And once he does, he delivers, every single time. You can only just look at that and just kind of be like, man, I want to be like that. I’m not as fierce on the field as he is, no doubt about that.”

Pettitte, though, knows there is still work to be done.

“I’m a work in progress, as far as trying to get back,” Pettitte said. “My stuff, I’d love to see it get back to where it was. There’s some stuff I need to work on, but it was good to be able to stay out of the middle of the zone and make some big pitches when I needed it.”

While Pettitte’s return is timely and uplifting, other problem spots remain.

Teixeira remains out with a calf injury and A-Rod is now hobbled by a sore foot.

The Rogers Centre turf will also play a factor and limit how much playing time Rodriguez receives.

Overall the third baseman has had his struggles. In his past 10 games he is hitting .233 (10-for-43) without an extra base hit.

It’s been that kind of season for manager Joe Girardi and his team.

UP NEXT

New York Yankees at Blue Jays

Thursday, 7:07 p.m. RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Brandon Morrow

Friday, 7:07 p.m., RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Chad Jenkins

Saturday, 1:07 p.m., LHP Andy Pettitte vs. LHP Ricky Romero

Sunday, 1:07 p.m., RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez

HOT

OF Ichiro Suzuki is hitting .487 (19-for-39) over his past nine games and since being acquired in a trade with Seattle July 23, he is hitting .327.

C Russell Martin has not had a good year at the plate but over his past 17 games he has picked it up hitting .271 with five homers and 13 RBIs.

OF/DH Nick Swisher has homered in four of his past seven games and is on a season-high nine-game hitting streak batting .343 (12-for-35) with 11 RBIs.

COLD

Fine, RF Raul Ibanez has gone 7-for-14 with three homers in his past four games, but prior to that he was hitless in his previous 18 at-bats and was mired in a 2-for-45 slump.

CF Curtis Granderson recently slugged his 40th home run but he has recorded just 12 hits in his past 56 at-bats.

3B Alex Rodriguez has had an injury-plagued season. Since coming off the DL Sept. 3 he is hitting .256 with three home runs and has three hits in his past 16 at-bats.

RUTSEY’S TAKE

The Jays came to life against the Baltimore Orioles but prior to that they were getting hammered by the Yankees and the Rays and the Jays appeared to have packed it in. On the season, the Yankees are 9-5 vs. the Jays but have lost four of the past six at Rogers Centre. The best thing going for the Jays is they won’t have to face lefty ace CC Sabathia. The Jays were spoilers in Baltimore but the Yankees are the Yankees and can go for the kill.

PREDICTION

The Yankees are down to the short strokes of their season and need every W they can get. They should win three of the four.

 


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