Commentary

Yankees wait for Pettitte as panacea

Freddy's follies force Bombers fans to hope Andy is cure-all to rotation's ills

Updated: April 29, 2012, 2:05 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- If 37-year-old Freddy Garcia never makes another start for the New York Yankees, the moment that's going to keep him up at night for years will be the one strike he couldn't get Saturday.

Garcia was one strike away from getting out of the first inning against the Detroit Tigers without any damage. One lousy strike away from perhaps saving his job, avoiding the boos, preventing his ERA from ballooning to 12.51, the highest in the major leagues among anyone who has made even one start this season.

He had a chance to slide the pressure over to Phil Hughes to prove he belongs in the Yankees' rotation when 39-year-old Andy Pettitte is ready.

[+] EnlargeFreddy Garcia
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty ImagesIt has been that kind of season for Freddy Garcia and the Yankees' starting rotation.

And Garcia couldn't do it.

Waiting for Andy kicked into overdrive instead.

The moment Garcia's two-on, two-out, 0-2 pitch to Tigers left fielder Andy Dirks cracked loudly off Dirks' bat, Garcia's head snapped around to watch the ball climbing off toward the right field seats. Then he grabbed his head with both arms and bent over as if he'd been punched in the gut. Which he sort of had.

"I had 0-2, and then -- again -- I'm just really struggling," Garcia said after the game, again not bothering to hide how upset he was. "I'm trying to do everything I can. ... I try to compete. Even in the bullpen [warming up], I just don't have my pitches."

After this meltdown, Pettitte can't get back from the minors to New York soon enough.

The Tigers led 3-0 after Dirks' homer. Their lead grew to 6-1 when Yankees manager Joe Girardi finally hooked Garcia after just 1 2/3 innings, yet another crummy outing in what's been a shabby year all-around for the starting pitching staff. Five of the six hitters Garcia faced before leaving in the second inning smacked the ball hard. And the boos from the crowd of 44,686 were brutally loud as he made his way toward the dugout and an early shower.

Despite two home runs from Nick Swisher and a three-run ninth-inning rally, the Yanks never fully dug out of the early hole. They lost, 7-5.

Girardi met with Garcia for an unusually long time after the game, and said he intended to talk to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman about Pettitte's return schedule. He wouldn't confirm the obvious -- some change in the makeup of the rotation is coming soon. All he said was, "I can't tell you exactly what we're going to do. I'm not going to make any rash decision tonight."

Girardi also didn't rule out sending Garcia for medical tests because they're both confused why the velocity on all his pitches, not just his fastball, seems "a few ticks down."

"If we didn't see [better velocity] in spring training, maybe I'd say, 'It's not there,'" Girardi said. "But we did."

The sad thing for Garcia was the first inning didn't start all that badly for him until he failed to get Dirks out. Garcia walked Austin Jackson to start the game, and then Jackson stole second. But Garcia seemed on the verge of junkballing his way out of the inning by freezing the Tigers' Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera with called third strikes.

Then, after intentionally walking Prince Fielder, Garcia got ahead of Dirks 0-2 by making Dirks look downright silly with a 78 mph offspeed pitch that that must've looked like a beachball as it floated up to the plate. Dirks' bat and hands were so out in front of the rest of his body, his legs buckled, he jackknifed at the waist and his butt flew backward. He was lucky to even foul the ball off. And Garcia seemed about to make something Tigers manager Jim Leyland noted about him before the game stand up.

"He's one of the best I've ever seen at making a pitch look good enough to swing at, but it's a ball," Leyland said.

Not this time. Yankees catcher Russell Martin jogged out to say something. Garcia nodded, then reared back and threw a splitter than never cut. And Dirks hit it out.

Long reliever David Phelps, who Girardi admitted is one stop-gap possibility to slide into the rotation, pitched three solid no-hit innings after Garcia went out.

Even before Garcia's flop, the thinking was Pettitte might be ready to re-join the Yanks in time to take his first turn on May 10. But the way things are trending for the Yanks' pitchers now -- both here and in the minors -- that date feels like a long way away. Hiroki Kuroda has made a halting adjustment to the American League. Staff ace CC Sabathia, who's scheduled to go Sunday against Tigers Max Scherzer, knows his 2-0 record is deceiving. His ERA is 5.27. Michael Pineda is getting his season-ending shoulder surgery done Tuesday, and the Triple A prospects the Yanks hoped might come on as fast as Ivan Nova did last year have either been erratic (Dellin Betances) or they've gotten hurt (Manny Banuelos, on the DL with a bad back).

The Yanks' overall record is a tepid 11-9.

The fact that their best-looking option to boost their faltering starting pitching is replacing a 37-year-old starter with one who's about to turn 40 in June and sat out a year makes you wonder: Will time show there's too much hope and expectations being invested in Pettitte being some cure-all, too?

The month of May -- which is just around the corner -- just turned into Waiting for Andy.

Start counting the days.

It's much more fun than tracking Garcia's soaring ERA.

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