With Pettitte retiring, the Yankees’ rotation success rides on Burnett

Now that Andy Pettitte has decided to retire, the general consensuses is that the Yankees’ are screwed when it comes to their starting rotation. But that’s probably an overreaction.

erunner Nelson Cruz circles the bases behind him in the top of the sixth inning of game four of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, New York, USA, 19 October 2010. The winner of the best-of-seven series will go on to face either Philadelphia Phillies or the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. EPA/JUSTIN LANE fotoglif765596

Assuming he doesn’t get injured or suffer a case of bad luck, CC Sabathia is still the best pitcher in the American League. If he can stay healthy, Phil Hughes is a solid No. 3 on a championship team and even has the talent to be a good No. 2. Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre are the unknowns, but the Yankees don’t need any of those guys to be Cliff Lee or even Pettitte. They could do much worse for their No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

But with Pettitte retiring, the Bombers do need the 2009 version of A.J. Burnett to return and not the puss that took the mound in 2010. It’s not like the guy can’t pitch; he helped the Yankees win the World Series in ’09 by finishing with a 4.04 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP. But those numbers rose in 2010 when he went 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA and 1.51 WHIP.

The key with Burnett has always been his mindset. If he’s healthy and his head is in the right place, then the Yankees’ rotation will be fine with Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes rounding out the top 3 spots. But if Burnett’s confidence starts to go, then so does his stuff and the wheels can come off rather quickly.

Pitching in New York and the small dimensions at Yankee Stadium don’t help his cause either. Pitchers can’t get away with mistakes at Yankee Stadium like they can at Petco Park or AT&T. Leave one up to a lefty in the Bronx and the ball is likely to wind up in some fan’s office the next morning.

But the early reports on Burnett have been good. He’s working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who says Burnett has a new approach that should yield better results. He also thinks that Burnett’s “mind and heart are in the right place,” and that he wants to do well.

For the Yankees’ sake, hopefully Rothschild is right. Losing Pettitte to retirement could be a minor blip or a catastrophe depending on Burnett.

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Andy Pettitte still undecided about 2011

New York Yankee Andy Pettitte pitches to the Texas Rangers in the first inning during game three of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2010 in New York. UPI/Monika Graff

Despite a recent report by the New York Daily News that stated he does not intend to pitch next year, The Journal News writes that Andy Pettitte is still undecided about the 2011 season.

This was Cashman’s quote, as relayed by The Daily News: “I don’t think he’s determined if he’s officially finished or not, but he’s chosen at this stage at least not to start in 2011.”

Cashman said you could basically substitute the word “pitch” for the word “start.” What Cashman meant was, at this stage, Pettitte is choosing not to pitch in 2011, but the Yankees are — as they’ve been all winter — waiting for Pettitte to let them know something official. He’s leaning toward retirement, and he’ll let them know if that situation changes.

After missing out on Cliff Lee, the Yankees really need Pettitte to return so their starting staff has a semblance of consistency. Thanks to their offense, the Yankees can probably get by with other options but that doesn’t mean they want to.

Pettitte was the anti-A.J. Burnett last year in that Joe Girardi could rely on him to give him quality starts each and every time. The Bombers need him, especially now that the Red Sox have re-tooled their lineup.

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