Can Pettitte come all the way back?
TALENT AND CHARACTER TRUMP AGE
The qualities that made Andy Pettitte a great pitcher -- tenacity, discipline and the ability to locate pitches in difficult to hit parts of the strike zone -- are not the qualities that generally erode with age.
We're not talking about a flamethrower here, who needs to blow people away and as such needs to remain young and strong, in defiance of the calendar.
We're talking about a guy who knows how to pitch, not just throw, and Pettitte -- who turns 40 in June -- certainly still can be that guy.
We're talking about a Freddy Garcia-type with more stuff and a couple of extra yards on his fastball. We're talking about a Jamie Moyer-type in terms of work ethic, a guy for whom date of birth means about as much as blood type in regard to his ability to get batters out.
We're talking about a bulldog of a competitor who knows what it takes to win in the toughest baseball town of all in the most unforgiving part of the season. He is one of those rare guys, like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, whose track record has earned him the benefit of the doubt until absolutely proven otherwise.
No one, of course, is immune to the aging process, and Pettitte showed he was no exception in 2010, when in the middle of what could have become his best season of all, he pulled a hamstring and missed two crucial months.
Something like that could conceivably happen to Pettitte again, especially if he becomes impatient in his comeback and tries to rush into action.
But barring injury, there is no reason why Pettitte can't step back into the Yankees rotation and be what he was on July 8, 2010, the start before he got hurt -- if not the best pitcher on the staff, then darned close to it.
MAYBE. BUT NOT FOR LONG.
When Andy Pettitte is on the mound, he should be fine. The question is: Will he be able to stay on the mound?
After a year off, Pettitte turns 40, which is usually a time when the body becomes a little crankier. In the euphoria of Pettitte's return, it has mostly been forgotten that after his All-Star first half in 2010, Pettitte barely pitched in the second half, missing two months because of a groin injury. He eventually returned and performed well, throwing two seven-inning playoff gems.
Despite his elbow issues that cost him a lot of 2004 with the Astros, Pettitte has been very durable in his career, starting 30 or more games 10 of the previous 12 seasons before the groin problem in '10. So it is not that Pettitte has a history of not making it out to the mound.
Still, who knows what impact taking a year off will have on Pettitte's body? Plus, Pettitte's career should be measured in dog years when you consider that his 16 seasons, include 42 career postseason starts, which is almost a season-and-a-half worth of extra outings.
Pettitte has the right mindset. He entered camp late, saying he wasn't concerned about his arm, but knew he had to find his pitching legs. That will take time and there is no guarantee that physically he will comeback fully. Pettitte still feels his legs aren't there yet, but he is smartly working them back slowly.
Pettittie, despite his HGH admittance after repeated denials, comes across so sincerely that Yankee fans may feel like another chapter is set for his Yankee legend. Maybe, it is.
However, by coming back, it is hard to imagine Pettitte leaving on top again. He knows how much he loves the game and so, when it ends, it probably won't end well. Even for the most beloved of athletes.