Monday, June 23, 2008

Pettitte power in the Bronx

Andy Pettitte is a man possessed.

Since serving up Jose Guillen's grand slam to cap a 10-run outing on June 7, the veteran left-hander has been baseball's best pitcher. After six more innings of shutout ball in the Yankees' 4-1 win over the Reds on Sunday, Pettitte is 3-0 in his last three starts, allowing one run over 21 innings. He's lowered his ERA from 4.99 to 4.04 in that span.

Not bad for a guy that had some Yankees fans -- including me -- wondering if his best days were behind him. With the Wanger sleeping in a boot, the Yankees need Pettitte to win his customary 15 games. At 8-5, he's well on his way to that mark with a chance to eclipse it.

Here's the thing about the Yankees rotation. As presently constituted, it's pretty decent. Much better than people give it credit for anyway. It was easy to write the rotation off as a wasteland after Wang's injury -- and it certainly remains suspect in the back end -- but the 1-2-3 punch of Mussina-Pettitte-Joba is very solid. I don't think I'm alone in my worry that Moose's rejuvenation won't last six months, but working under the guise that it does, we're not in as bad a spot as initially thought.

Of course, we're putting all the pressure in the world on Joba's shoulders again, which is asking a lot from a dude that's started four games as a pro. But does anybody think Hoss is going to wilt in the spotlight this summer? Exactly. The Yankees got 35 wins out of Wang-Pettitte-Mussina a year ago and easily advanced to the postseason. Doesn't it seem well within reason that Mussina-Pettitte-Joba could reach or even surpass that total this season?

A doubter will likely counter that the rotation's back end is worse off than last season, but a closer look at the numbers show the Yanks got very little beyond their big three in '07. Yes, Roger Clemens returned last June, but people seem to forget that Roger Clemens, well, wasn't very good in his final season. He was paid $4.5 million a month for six wins in 18 starts with a 4.18 ERA. "But Dan, the Rocket's presence went beyond wins and losses! He was a valuable teacher and role model to the young guns, making him worth every cent!" Right. Obviously, Hughes and Kennedy (combined 0-7, 8.06 ERA, both on DL) have taken Roger's lessons and blossomed like beautiful butterflies.

In truth, the '07 Yanks got Clemens' six wins and five more from Hughes and that was about it. The team's other big winner was actually Luis Vizcaino, who compiled eight victories out of the bullpen. Naturally, this performance prompted Brian Cashman to trade the right-hander this winter for LaTroy Hawkins, who is basically Luis Vizcaino only 18 percent shittier. My only guess is that Luis made fun of Cash's Oakley sunglasses or something.

So, 41-35, five games behind Boston in the East, 3.5 games behind Tampa Bay for the Wild Card. We're doing just fine right now. After a travel day on Monday, the Yanks and Darrell Rasner begin a three-game series against the Pirates at PNC Park before a weekend series against those goofy Mets.

Let's have another good week.

Around The Horn: It looks like the return of the great (drinker) Sidney Ponson will happen on Friday against the Mets. He will not be making his scheduled Minors start on Thursday, a sign he'll take the ball in one of the split doubleheader games. ... Jason Giambi is hot again, picking up two more hits on Sunday, including a key two-run double. He also apparently made the decision to dye his uncle mustache a dark shade of brown, which puts the Giambino one step closer to a neighborhood watch list. ... Kyle Farnsworth had to get stitches on his pitching hand after he was injured trying to corral a comebacker with the one part of his body that's made him a millionaire. "Hey, it's instincts mannnnnnn!" Michael Kay, apparently unaware that Farnsworth is a bad, bad baseball player, spoke emotionally and in hushed tones about the potential of losing the right-hander for an extended period of time. Anyway, Farnsworth has apparently done this before (a genius, he is) and the Yanks believe he'll avoid the DL. All I can say is thank Jesus. ... Hideki Matsui looked terrible trying to run out a grounder on Sunday, a sign that his recently drained knee is far from 100 percent. It's hard to imagine him being anything other than a pinch-hitter until the Yanks get the designated hitter spot back on Friday. ... Vote the deserving Yankees into the All-Star Game on July 15. We need some guys to serve up atomic wedgies to that little midget Pedroia.

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