The Yankees welcomed Andy Pettitte back to the rotation last night after he missed 18 days with a strained trap muscle. It was the first time he had to be placed on the DL this year but the second time he had to miss starts — a stiff lower back sidelined him for more than a week back in April. Rainouts and off-days allowed the Yankees to skip his turn without much of a problem early in the season.
Less than two weeks away from his 41st birthday, Pettitte is the oldest regular starter in the big leagues by almost one full year — former Yankee Bartolo Colon won’t turn 41 until next May. With age comes injury concerns, and not just the increased risk of getting hurt. It takes older players a longer time to recover as well. In an effort to stay healthier, Andy has considered modifying his between-starts routine a bit.
“He’s talked about backing off a little bit,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin over the weekend. “But it’s hard when you’re a creature of habit. When you’ve had as much success as he’s had, it’s hard to change what you do, but I think it’s important that he does it.”
Pettitte usually throws two bullpen sessions between starts, which is something he would look to change. That said, he is concerned about how it would affect him on the mound every five days. He might feel stronger physically, but it could come at the expense of losing rhythm and feel for pitches. That would be very bad since he’s a finesse pitcher.
“Truthfully, I don’t know,” said Andy when asked how he would react to changing his routine. “I’m used to doing two bullpens. We’ll just how it goes … I know what I’ve got to do mentally to prepare for this game and I understand where they’re coming from, of course, because of my age and how much time it takes and the adjustments you have to make as you get older.”
Regardless of how they do it, one of the Yankees’ top priorities for the rest of the season should be keeping Pettitte healthy and in the rotation. If that means cutting back to one bullpen between starts or even limiting him to 90-100 pitches per start instead of 100-110, so be it. The team lives and dies with its pitching, and Andy is one of their three best at worst. Obviously keeping him on the field is much easier said than done regardless of his age.
Hiroki Kuroda, the third oldest starter in the big leagues at 38, modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresh deeper into the season after hitting a wall last September. I don’t know if Pettitte did anything differently this winter, but he’s clearly thinking about doing something differently during the season. As good as Vidal Nuno looked in his three spot starts, Andy is the guy the Yankees want in their rotation right now and they need him to stop missing starts every month. He’s too vital to the team’s success to be a 20-22 start guy than a 30-32 start guy.