Pettitte, out of action since suffering a broken left ankle after being hit by a line drive off the bat of Casey Kotchman on June 27, will face the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
The decision came as something of a surprise. Manager Joe Girardi casually dropped it into his pregame news conference in the middle of a discussion about Derek Jeter's health for Thursday night's game against the Boston Red Sox. It could be an indication of the team's concern about keeping pace with the Baltimore Orioles, who beat the Tampa Bay Rays again Thursday to pull a half-game ahead in the AL East, pending the outcome of Thursday night's Yankees' game.
According to Girardi, a conversation Wednesday night involving himself, Pettitte, general manager Brian Cashman, trainer Steve Donohue and team physician Dr. Chris Ahmad came to an obvious conclusion: "We feel that he's ready to go. Is he going to give you 90 pitches? No. But 70 is somewhat realistic."
Bringing Pettitte back now, when he is likely to give them a maximum of six innings, seems as much pointed to getting him ready for the postseason as it is to stabilizing the regular-season rotation in the midst of a tight divisional race.
"We feel we could have done another simulated game on Sunday and started him Friday," Girardi said. "But this way, he possibly has four starts for us (before the regular season ends)."
Pettitte made three simulated starts in his rehab, including one Wednesday in which he threw 55 pitches.
"I think everybody's been really pleased with my command in these simulated games," Pettitte said. "I think that's why this is able to happen."
Pettitte will replace David Phelps in the Yankees' rotation. Phelps, who pitched well and earned the win in Wednesday night's 5-4 victory against the Red Sox, will return to the bullpen as a long reliever.
"I can go and do another (simulated) start, but I'd hate to," Pettitte said. "I feel like I can give y'all quality pitches, and I think they all think that also."
After deciding to end his one-year retirement in March, Pettitte made nine starts for the Yankees and was pitching well at the time of his injury (3-3, 3.22 ERA).
"I feel like I was in a really good place when I got hurt," he said. "I was throwing all my pitches for strikes and I'm hoping to get right back into that. I know how I want to attack hitters. Whatever pitches I got, I want them to be quality and hopefully give us a good outing."
The return of Pettitte adds a seasoned veteran to a club that has been decimated by injuries, including a calf strain that has starting first baseman Mark Teixeira sidelined indefinitely.
Pettitte is a tenacious competitor who has won more games (19) in the postseason than any pitcher in baseball history.
On Wednesday, Pettitte threw down a challenge to his teammates -- "Don't be afraid to fail" -- and now he will get the chance to demonstrate how it is done Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
"This is what I came back for," he said. "Obviously, it would be nice to have a little bit of a bigger lead, where you can take a breath. It would be nice to know that we were going to the postseason right now, and not have to worry about it. But I'm looking forward to being back, trying to help this club do what we want to do: That's get to the postseason and hopefully win the championship. I want to be part of that solution, not just sitting there watching it."