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Pettitte strong in return for Yankees

Andy Pettitte returned and David Phelps looked sharp again as the Yankees combined to win twice today, 4-2 and 2-1.

Things are certainly looking up recently in Yankees’ land. Russell Martin no longer looks like a zombie at the plate. Robinson Cano is starting to hit a little again. Curtis Granderson is back to hitting home runs and striking out a lot instead of just striking out.

Most importantly, this team is almost completely healthy.

With the return of Brett Gardner (available for everything except hitting), Pettitte and Ivan Nova, all of the depth is where it should be.

Gardner provides extra speed instead of just Ichiro Suzuki in the everyday lineup. Pettitte has bumped David Phelps and Freddy Garcia out of the rotation for the stretch run, even though Phelps pitched well as part of a double-header today, winning the night cap with 6.2 innings of one run ball. The Yankees broke a 1-1 tie when Ichiro singled to drive in Granderson with two outs. Pettitte looked great in five innings in the opener, earning the win on a 75 pitch count.

The bullpen nearly blew it in the eighth inning as David Robertson was smacked around with a 3-0 lead, but the bullpen held on and the Yankees added an insurance run in the bottom half of the eighth, again guided by Ichiro who seems to be getting into postseason form.

Nova’s return earlier this week was equally encouraging as Pettitte’s as he dominated Tampa and also earned a victory, essentially ending the Rays’ chances of finishing higher than the Bronx Bombers. Now the Yankees can evaluate who will join CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes in the rotation.

The obvious choice is Pettitte as long as he can throw 100 pitches, which he can probably do as early as his next start. Nova and Phelps will provide excellent depth into a bullpen which has struggled with middle relief recently. With Nova, Phelps and Joba Chamberlain and lefties, Boone  Logan and Clay Rapada, the Yankees should have plenty of arms to bridge the gap to Robertson and Rafael Soriano.

New York’s rash of health has coincided with a rebound in the standings. The double-header sweep has made the Yankees winners of four in a row and six of seven overall. Of course, it has also helped playing Boston and Toronto for five of those games.

With the Rays getting swept by Baltimore, losing two of three to New York and not sweeping the Red Sox, they find themselves 6.5 games behind the division and 5.5 games behind both Baltimore and Oakland. The Yankees currently lead the East by a game in the loss column pending another extra inning outcome with the Mariners for the Orioles.

With Oakland being the last major threat to the schedule, the Yankees find themselves with a favorable finish and could have as much as a two game cushion before hosting the A’s at Yankee Stadium. Barring setbacks, and possibly including the return of Mark Teixeira before the end of the regular season, New York has the eastern division very much within its grasps, trailing Texas by just three games for the best record in the American League.

 


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