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Baumbach: Without Pettitte, Yankees' rotation in a mess

Andy Pettitte pitches in the seventh inning against

Andy Pettitte pitches in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium, Sunday. (April 18, 2010) Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

In updating the status of Andy Pettitte's groin injury during a midgame announcement last night, the Yankees said an MRI taken earlier in the evening showed "a small persistent strain."

Persistent is one way to describe this injury, along with the potential of a dark cloud it has left hovering over the Yankees' rotation.

Wednesday marks a month since Pettitte last pitched for the Yankees, and after yesterday's setback - he still experienced discomfort while throwing off the mound - the team said the veteran lefthander will not attempt to throw off a mound again for another week.

Though no one around the Yankees needed any reminders of Pettitte's importance, watching them attempt to get by without him these last few weeks hasn't been, well, smooth. They're 15-13 since Pettitte went down, hardly looking like the juggernaut they were rolling into the All-Star break.

Obviously, everything with the Yankees doesn't ride on Pettitte, but it seems as if Pettitte's importance to this team has grown during his absence in recent weeks, probably more than the Yankees would care to admit.

It wasn't always like this, of course. Whatever happened to the deep Yankees rotation that dominated the American League in April and May and looked built for the postseason, anyway? A few months later a lot has changed.

A.J. Burnett appears to be as unpredictable as ever, appearing to be just as capable of throwing a one-hitter as he is of getting knocked out in the second inning. Javier Vazquez is struggling to adjust to life without his fastball consistently hitting 90 mph. And Phil Hughes has a 5.20 ERA in his last 12 starts.

With less than six weeks remaining on the regular-season schedule, CC Sabathia represents the only sure thing in the rotation. He continued his march toward 20 wins last night by limiting the Tigers to only two runs and five hits in seven innings in the Yankees' 6-2 win.

But come October, someone is going to have to pitch the games after Sabathia. And the longer Pettitte remains on the disabled list, the murkier this question gets.

Don't forget the primary reason the Yankees marched through the postseason last year was because they had three very effective starters that they rode.

The challenge these next six weeks - beyond solidifying another postseason berth, of course - is turning a capable rotation that's basically been treading water this summer back into the made-for-postseason version from earlier this season. But the schedule doesn't exactly work in their favor, either.

Last September, the Yankees had the luxury (and foresight) to give their starters an extra day of rest in between a few starts, preparing them for the October grind. But with games scheduled for 21 of their next 22 days and only three days off after that stretch, they might not have that chance this season.

The Yankees' announcement that Pettitte will remain off a mound for the next week pushes his rehab back again, making it a near certainty that he won't return until sometime in September. That means he likely will have to build himself back up in the majors just weeks before the start of the postseason.

They're right to play this cautiously, given the mileage on Pettitte's 38-year-old body. Pettitte said through a spokesman before the game that he requested the MRI because he wanted peace of mind after feeling the groin area "grab" while throwing off the mound.

But once Pettitte finally gets in a game and pitches effectively and pain-free, the Yankees and their fans will gain their own peace of mind, with good reason.

New York Sports