Andy Pettitte goes five innings

TRENTON, N.J. -- With his importance increasing because Michael Pineda is out for the season, Andy Pettitte moved a little closer to returning to the Yankees by pitching five innings for the Double-A Trenton Thunder on Wednesday night.

After allowing four runs -- three earned -- against the Erie SeaWolves, Pettitte is expected to make at least two more minor league starts before he could be ready for the big leagues, possibly by May 10. Pettitte is returning after sitting out all of last season.

"It was another step in the right direction," Pettitte said of Wednesday's outing.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman said it is possible that Pettitte could have three minor league starts, which would move his major league debut to the middle of next month.

The timing of his first big league outing could also be delayed by Pettitte's anticipated testimony in the Roger Clemens perjury trial.

"That is nothing I even care to talk about," Pettitte said.

Wearing his familiar No. 46, Pettitte mostly had his way with the inferior competition, despite an imperfect line. In what for all intents and purposes was a spring training start, he threw 81 pitches, 59 for strikes, and allowed seven hits. He struck out three and walked one.

"I was a little disappointed with my command a little bit tonight," Pettitte said. "I thought I made a few more mistakes than I had been making."

Pineda will undergo surgery Tuesday to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder and will be out for the rest of the season, but his injury will have no impact on when Pettitte is put into the Yankees' struggling rotation. Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes have not pitched well so far.

"Regardless of what is taking place at the major league level, Andy has got to go through the right motions," Cashman said. "There is a little unknown, given his age and being a full year off. He'll be ready when he is ready. Despite what is happening above, there is not going to be any urgency."

The Yankees have not yet decided when and where Pettitte will make his next minor league start. It will be based on logistics and weather.

"We'll see what and where will make the most sense," Cashman said.

Trenton is on the road in Portland, Maine, at the beginning of next week. Pettitte needs to be at the 100-pitch level before he and the Yankees would consider him ready for the majors.

"We've got to play it safe," Cashman said. "When and if he is ready, it is not going to be something it can sustain and stay healthy. So he is in the position to help."

Pettitte left to a standing ovation in the sixth inning. On his way to the Thunder dugout, he flipped the ball to a fan.

Before the first pitch, the crowd honored Pettitte with his initial standing ovation at the announcement of his name. In the first, Pettitte gave up a run but looked like his old self, throwing 16 pitches, including 11 strikes.

The first two batters he faced hit singles -- one a line drive to center by Michael Rockett and the other a soft grounder off third baseman Addison Maruszak's glove -- to put a runner in scoring position. Rockett would score on a fielder's choice before Pettitte sent two SeaWolves down on strikes. Pettitte retired nine in a row after the initial two hits.

In the fourth, Pettitte gave up his second run on a walk and two hits. The RBI single came on a bloop off the bat of Rob Brantly.

In the fifth, Pettitte allowed his third run but was hurt by an error in the inning. When he left the mound, the crowd thought he would be done for the game and rose for his second ovation.

When Pettitte finally was taken out for good in the sixth, there was a man on first. The runner came around to score.

"He looked good," Cashman said. "I think he is going in the right direction."

Pettitte, who will turn 40 in June, came out of retirement in mid-March. The Yankees signed him to a $2.5 million deal, which seems like even more of a steal with Pineda now out of the season.