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yankees countdown

Yankees Countdown: No. 14, Andy Pettitte

The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Yankees players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 14, pitcher Andy Pettitte.

We read something yesterday which we didn't quite believe at first: Over the past five years, Andy Pettitte has thrown the third most innings of any pitcher in baseball, if you combine the regular season and playoffs. It makes sense. He's pitched in three postseasons over that stretch (twice in the World Series), and has avoided serious injury. One could choose to look at all these games as a bad thing: He'll turn 38 in June, and that's a lot of innings for a guy winding down his career.

But we choose to look at it this way: If he could make 32 starts at age 37 — and pitch as well as he did in the postseason — then squeezing another year out of his left arm is well within the realm of possibility. And if the Yankees bullpen really is set up this year so that starters only need six innings per outing, and he can drop his innings count a bit, then it's even more within that realm.

We've already admitted to doubting Pettitte more than once over the past couple of years, so we're done doing that now. The guy won the deciding game in all three playoff rounds last year — he obviously has something left. But Pettitte entered 2009 as the team's fourth starter (behind Sabathia, Wang, and Burnett), and was something of a wild card after his poor second half in 2008. He enters 2010 as the third starter — the rare player on the downside of his career who will find increased expectations entering a season. But like we said, we vowed last November to trust him, so we do.

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Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images