First Pitch: Pettitte running out of steam?

Andy Pettitte may be headed for the worst season of his career. Debby Wong/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- The weakest link in the Yankees' rotation right now, believe it or not, is Andy Pettitte.

Ivan Nova has pitched two gems in a row, and suddenly looks like a high-level major-league starter again. Phil Hughes strung together back-to-back excellent outings against the Rangers and Twins, before suffering a hard-luck loss earlier this week against the Royals (when he was limited to just four innings by a rain delay).

Pettitte won his last start against the Orioles, but still gave up four runs (three earned) on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. And in his previous four starts, he lost three times, with one no-decision.

He will start Thursday's series finale against Kansas City sporting a 6-6 record, with a 4.37 ERA, hoping to avoid falling under .500.

To put those numbers in perspective, Pettitte has never finished with a losing record in his previous 17 major league seasons. Only once did he finish .500, going 14-14 with the Yanks in 2008. And only twice has he finished with an earned run average higher than his current one -- in '08 (4.54), and in 1999, when he went 14-11 with a career-worst 4.70 ERA.

What's more concerning is, Pettitte's trending in the wrong direction. When he came out of retirement last season, he posted a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts. He began this season 3-0 with a 2.01. But he is just 3-6 in 12 starts since. And his 4.37 is just barely ahead of the much-maligned Hughes, whose record is 4-8, but whose ERA is 4.55.

Furthermore, Pettitte has gotten the most run support, by far, of the Yankees' starting staff. He's currently getting 4.8 runs per start, 16th-most in the American League. Hughes, on the other hand, is getting 3.1 runs per start, third-fewest in the AL.

In other words, Hughes' record could be far better, and Pettitte's could be far worse.

And don't forget, Pettitte turned 41 years old last month, and hasn't pitched a full season since 2009.

Joe Girardi is not going to pull Pettitte out of the rotation. And you'd still trust Pettitte more than Hughes in a big spot.

But the truth is, Andy Pettitte may be headed for the worst season of his career, in what very well may be his final one.

UP NOW: The Yankees snapped their three-game losing streak Wednesday night, beating the Royals 8-1. The lineup emerged from a major funk, scoring a season-high number of runs in the Bronx -- though Wally Matthews writes you shouldn't get too excited. Nova pitched brilliantly, again. And Brett Gardner and Travis Hafner both got nicked up.

ON DECK: A Thursday matinee, to wrap up this four-game series. The Royals will hand the ball to veteran righty Ervin Santana (5-5, 2.90). First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

Wally and I will have you covered from the Stadium. The Yankees clubhouse is scheduled to open at 10 a.m.

QUESTION: Do you think Pettitte will turn his season around?