11 shutout innings don't satisfy Andy Pettitte

Andy Pettitte delivers a pitch to a batter Andy Pettitte delivers a pitch to a batter during a game against the Minnesota Twins. (Sept. 24, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The six scoreless innings elicited nothing but praise from the manager's office and the Yankees' clubhouse.

With one notable exception: Andy Pettitte, who Monday night ran his streak to 11 innings without allowing a run since returning from the disabled list last week.

"I felt good,'' said Pettitte, who suffered a fractured left ankle June 27. "But I still feel like I'm struggling with stuff . . . I know how sharp I was when I got hurt and obviously I'm a work in progress right now with my stuff. I would love to see my stuff get back to where it was.''

Catcher Russell Martin smiled when he heard Pettitte's self-evaluation.

"He was pretty good today, I thought, but I think that's just his DNA,'' Martin said. "He's always trying to get better. He could throw a perfect game and he's probably still going to say, well, I should have made a couple better pitches, blah, blah. That's how he is. He's always trying to get better. I don't think you'll ever hear him content with an outing.''

Pettitte's lone expression of contentment was the overall result, a 6-3 win that, with Baltimore splitting a doubleheader against Toronto, inched the Yankees 1 1/2 games ahead of the Orioles in the AL East. The lead was two games after the Orioles lost to the Blue Jays on Tuesday night.

"Just a great game for us,'' Pettitte said. "Guys got me some runs early. Defense played great. Russell called a great game. Just a good team effort for us today.''

Only the second and sixth innings were clean for Pettitte, who, as he said, received help from his defense. Most notably centerfielder Curtis Granderson, who threw out Ryan Doumit at the plate in the fourth.

Pettitte (5-3, 2.71) induced two double plays, one from Josh Willingham in the third to escape a first-and-third, one-out jam, and one from Denard Span in the fifth to erase a leadoff single.

"Same old Andy,'' Joe Girardi said. "We've seen it for years. When he needs a double play, he finds a way to get it.''

Martin's first exposure to catching Pettitte was this spring, after the lefthander shocked just about everyone by unretiring.

"He just bears down, he's a natural competitor,'' Martin said. "You're going to have to try and out-compete him and I don't really know of anybody that can really do that. He's going to make quality pitches and that's it. He's in control, he's in command out there. Even behind in counts, he doesn't give in. He's going to make the hitter earn his money.''

One hitter who had some success against Pettitte over the years is teammate Eric Chavez, who was 6-for-19 against him while with the Athletics. Chavez said he's seen an evolution in the 40-year-old.

"I think he's more aware that he can't pitch over the plate, he's got to pitch kind of around the plate and not get as much of the plate as he used to,'' Chavez said. "He knows what he has to do with each batter. He's still putting the ball where he wants to.''

The word Pettitte used in describing his effectiveness, even without his best stuff, was "simplify.

"It's very easy to confuse yourself out there and start thinking too much,'' he said. "You realize that the middle of the plate's not good, and the corners are really good. Really, I'm trying to simplify it with that, and know that if you're moving the ball around and don't stay in one spot, it makes it a lot more difficult on the hitter.''

Nick Swisher, not surprisingly, was the most effusive in his praise.

"I love this guy, I absolutely love him,'' Swisher said. "There's nothing that fazes him. He takes a full year off, comes back, breaks his foot on a crazy play, has been itching to get back in the lineup for the longest time, and once he does, he delivers every single time. You can only look at that and say, man, I want to be like that. Seems like every time he takes the mound, he's locked in out there.''

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