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Another strong outing for Andy Pettitte in Yankees' 6-3 win over Twins

Andy Pettitte delivers a pitch in a game

Andy Pettitte delivers a pitch in a game against the Minnesota Twins. (Sept. 24, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS -- Andy Pettitte didn't want to hear about these being rehab starts. No more lowered expectations, no talk of easing back into the rotation and pitch counts.

Especially the latter.

"I can't think about pitch counts," Pettitte said Sunday, on the eve of his second start since coming off the disabled list. "I'm going to give them what I can. In my last game, I just took it as a normal game."

Though more taxing than his first start, Sept. 19 against the Blue Jays when he gave up four hits in five scoreless innings, Monday night was another positive one.

On a higher pitch count against the Twins -- 85-90 compared with 75 against Toronto -- the 40-year-old lefthander this time pitched six shutout innings in the Yankees' 6-3 victory.

"It's been really important for us," Joe Girardi said of Pettitte's 11 scoreless innings since returning. "I'm very impressed with what he's done for us. We need him to continue to pitch well and he's doing it."

The win, the Yankees' eighth in their last nine games, combined with Baltimore's double-header split against Toronto, increased their AL East lead to 1 1/2 games over the Orioles. It's the Yankees' largest lead since Sept. 2 when it was two games.

"I feel like last year, we cruised into the playoffs not playing our best ball," said Nick Swisher, whose two-run homer -- one of four homers for the Yankees -- in the first inning made it 3-0. "Right now, I feel like we're playing the best baseball we've played all season."

Pettitte (5-3, 2.71 ERA), who allowed seven hits and one walk, left with a 4-0 lead (Raul Ibañez's 18th homer of the season and Eric Chavez's 14th in the seventh made it 6-0).

"I can remember how I was when I got hurt and for me there are some things that just aren't quite as sharp," Pettitte said. "I feel like I'm still able to make those pitches but I would love to see my stuff feel a little bit sharper . . . I would love for the results to stay the same. That's for sure."

Cory Wade allowed a run in the eighth and Justin Thomas allowed two in the ninth.

Just two of Pettitte's innings were clean -- the second and sixth -- but he was aided by two double plays, and an outfield assist by Curtis Granderson, whose 40th homer of the season made it 4-0 in the fourth. The Yankees hit all four homers off overmatched Twins starter Liam Hendriks.

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

Just as going against an injury-riddled Blue Jays lineup probably was ideal for Pettitte's initial start, the Twins were a fine option for a second outing. Pettitte, who threw 88 pitches, came into Monday night 9-0 with a 2.74 ERA in his previous 11 starts against the Twins dating to May 2001.

The Yankees gave Pettitte a 3-0 lead before he took the mound. Derek Jeter, whose ninth-inning single extended his hitting streak to 18 games, led off with a walk and Ichiro Suzuki, who was named AL player of the week, lined a double off the wall in right-center, improving to 16 for his last 26. Alex Rodriguez couldn't get Jeter in from third, flying to short right, but Robinson Cano did with a grounder to short.

Swisher's homer made it 3-0.

That helped Pettitte settle down but the lefthander said "mechanically" he has plenty to work on and he'll have one more regular-season start to get it right. Will that be enough to get him October-ready? "That's what we got," Pettitte said. "So it's going to be enough."

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