As Andy Pettitte concluded his first postgame interview in nearly three months, he revealed that he was not crazy about the pitches coming out of his left hand.
While Pettitte may have been hard on himself and his feel for his pitches, the results showed otherwise. The 40-year-old left-hander threw five scoreless innings during Wednesday afternoon’s important 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.
“I wasn’t real happy with my cutter,” Pettitte said. “I didn’t feel like it was as sharp. I felt like it wasn’t as sharp as it had been. It definitely wasn’t as sharp as it was when I got hurt, that’s for sure.
“I wasn’t crazy about a whole lot of stuff. I felt like the command of my fastball was OK. I threw some good changeups. It was just one of those days where you’re trying to get through it.”
The command might not have been as sharp as usual, but that was probably to be expected for someone who last faced hitters in a game situation on June 27. During the layoff, Pettitte was unable to pitch other than two simulated games and several bullpen sessions.
“I was just happy that after two and a half months, my arm strength stayed where it was,” Pettitte said. “For me, that was exciting. Obviously if you’re sitting at 86 [mph] and you’re throwing 88 [mph], it’s better than 86 [mph] if you’re not trying to overthrow. The ball was coming out pretty good, so that’s a positive for me.”
Also positive was Pettitte’s line on a day the Yankees were just hoping Pettitte could reach the fifth inning.
“What I had seen in the games that he was throwing leading up to this, I thought it was possible,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He did a good job. I think he had one 1-2-3 inning. He got some double plays. He pitched out of some jams, got some important strikeouts. He did a really good job.”
He allowed four singles in five innings while throwing 75 pitches for his 244th career victory.
“I felt pretty good,” Pettitte said. “I didn’t feel great. I think that extra layoff I had probably actually hurt me a little bit as far as how my body felt — my legs and stamina. But all in all it was good. I was able to get through it. I was able to make some pitches when I had to get through innings.”
Pettitte’s return also provided an interesting contrast.
The pitches limit and sparse crowd due to Tuesday’s rainout gave the feel of a spring training game. But this was the latest in a series of important games for the Yankees, who will take a one-half game lead over the Orioles into the nightcap.
“There’s no doubt [these games are big],” Pettitte said. “That is a little different. These games are very important. Every pitch is very important and I’m just trying to narrow it down to making pitches and not worry about anything else and I’m hoping I can keep it that simple right now and that’s what I’m trying to do whenever I know I’m at that full strength.”
Pettitte also felt apprehensive going into the game because he did not know the mentality of the Blue Jays’ lineup, which was missing Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on out there when you’re trying to figure out how to get hitters out and wondering [about their approach],” Pettitte said. “There’s a lot of junk through your head. You’re wondering if they’re going to be taking to get your pitch count up. [There’s] just bad stuff going on through your head.”
He managed to fight through the clutter in his mind by throwing 14 in the first inning and working through trouble in the next three. His toughest innings were a 24-pitch second, a 16-pitch third and a 14-pitch fourth.
In the second, he stranded runners at the corners by using his slider to get Anthony Gose on a groundout. In the third, he went to his fastball to get Adam Lind on a double play following two errors on the same play by Nick Swisher at first.
For his final escape act, Pettitte used his changeup and cutter to get consecutive groundball outs with runners at first and second.
By the fourth, Pettitte had approached his limit, with 68 pitches, but he had done enough to start the fifth. It turned out to be his easiest inning. Pettitte needed just seven pitches to get a strikeout and two ground balls and call it day.
“You have confidence in Andy because he knows how to get that double-play ball, a strikeout or make a big pitch,” Girardi said. “You know he’s not going to be overwhelmed by the situation.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.