Not too many injuries strike as much unease in baseball clubhouses as when a pitcher feels something around his elbow. Case in point: In discussing the stiffness that sent Andy Pettitte into an MRI tube Wednesday, Joe Girardi went to great lengths to avoid even saying the name of that body part.
The Yankees manager first pointed to the inside of Pettitte's forearm, saying that's where his stiffness initially occurred last Friday. And then he pointed at the outside of his triceps muscle, saying that's where the stiffness reared itself Wednesday.
Let the record show Girardi never pointed at his elbow. But leave it to Pettitte to acknowledge the elephant in the Yankees' clubhouse. "Anytime you're talking about the area around your elbow," the veteran lefthander said, "you start to worry a little bit."
That was a quote Pettitte gave Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo after their 7-5 win over the Orioles, spoken at a time when his immediate status was uncertain. Pettitte also said he thinks he's going to be OK, and those words certainly carry weight, too.
Pettitte's MRI, according to the Yankees, "revealed mild inflammation of his left elbow. It will be treated conservatively and will be evaluated on a daily basis at this point."
But while that means the Yankees have avoided an immediate crisis, don't think they are in the clear just yet. Elbow injuries are among the trickiest to predict. Maybe it goes away in a week and is quickly forgotten. Or maybe this thing nags Pettitte all season.
In an awkward sort of way, Pettitte's injury scare was a fitting end to a homestand that has been successful in the standings but troublesome in the trainer's room. The Yankees were painfully reminded Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Pettitte are not in their 20s anymore.
As the Yankees head to Boston, those three pivotal players are not only battling injuries but also their age and mileage on their bodies, something Girardi knows he has to keep in mind as he manages the rest of the year.
"Part of what you have to manage is the competitive spirit," Girardi said. "You have to determine whether it's just soreness or an injury. And does soreness turn into an injury? Those are the things you have to determine as the manager. And it's usually harder when a guy has mileage."
Girardi has faith the 40-year-old Rivera will be able to pitch beginning Friday night, saying the stiffness in his side that has sidelined him since last Friday should no longer be an issue. But the manager called Posada "much more of a question mark to me than Mo."
Posada yesterday missed his second straight game because of a strained right calf. The Yankees believe he won't need to go on the disabled list, but Girardi admits he doesn't know what kind of timeline he's going to be on until he does some baseball activities Friday afternoon in Boston.
Then there's Pettitte and his inflamed elbow, which represents the wild card in this pinstriped world. "We're going to air him out with text messages, give him our best and wish him well," said A.J. Burnett, who knows a thing or two about injuries.
Not only does Pettitte turn 38 in June, he also has logged more innings (2,965 1/3) than all active pitchers except Philadelphia's Jamie Moyer. And Pettitte's total doesn't even count the 249 innings he has pitched in the postseason. "We've seen Andy pitch through a lot of aches and pains during the course of his long career," Girardi said, and now Pettitte is going to have to do it again.