THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

What's toll on Pettitte?

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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / February 14, 2008

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TAMPA - On his first day at camp as Yankees manager, Joe Girardi yesterday spent seven hours in a meeting with his staff assessing 69 players, and later spoke about how his former teammate, and now top lefthanded starter, Andy Pettitte, has asked for and received permission from general manager Brian Cashman to report five days late on Monday.

Girardi, who is replacing Joe Torre, knew he was inheriting a pitching staff with holes and issues. How long will Pettitte be involved in the Mitchell Report mess? And if there's a perjury case against Roger Clemens, will Pettitte be dragged into it?

Pettitte gave the most potentially damaging testimony against Clemens in an affidavit to Congress, saying Clemens admitted to him in 1999 or 2000 that he had taken human growth hormone. On Tuesday night, Pettitte asked Cashman if he could report late. Cashman indicated the reason for Pettitte being delayed had a lot to do with the emotion surrounding his deposition. After all, Pettitte and Clemens are close friends.

Neither Cashman nor Girardi could guarantee that Pettitte would be ready to pitch on Opening Day. Girardi also revealed that Pettitte has not thrown off a mound yet. Girardi said there have been years when Pettitte has not thrown off a mound prior to spring training, and yet still was ready for Opening Day.

It was asked whether Pettitte, who was talked into coming back for one more season at $16 million, might now opt for retirement. Cashman said, "Based on the conversations I've had with him, I don't think that's something that's going through his mind." Cashman then added he couldn't be sure of Pettitte's thoughts.

All in all, yesterday was not a good day for the Yankees.

Girardi, who caught for Pettitte during the Yankee dynasty years, feels Pettitte will be able to rebound because of his mental toughness.

"Not worried," said Girardi. "I've seen Andy go through some difficult times and be able to focus on the task at hand. I was there in 1998 when Andy pitched Game 4 with a heavy heart. His dad was sick and he wasn't sure how the surgeries were going to go, what the prognosis was. I know he's been through some injuries with his kids. I know Andy Pettitte's heart and I know come April he'll be ready to go."

Girardi said he had talked to Pettitte "a number of times" over the past few weeks and feels confident the lefthander will assume his normal role in the rotation.

Cashman is taking a wait-and-see approach on how much time Pettitte will need to get ready. Cashman said he hasn't changed his outlook on the pitching staff, though he could explore more options as camp progresses. Cashman listed Chien-Ming Wang, Pettitte, and Mike Mussina as sure things, and the rest of the rotation will be an open competition. Neither Cashman nor Girardi would confirm a report that Joba Chamberlain will start the season as Mariano Rivera's set-up man.

While Cashman chose to make steroids and the investigation a league-wide issue, the Yankees are the most affected team.

"As an industry, none of us are proud at what has taken place," Cashman said. "We're all looking to find a way to ensure that what has taken place in the last decade or so doesn't take place again. I don't take it as an attack on the Yankees. It's a reflection on what has taken place in society and sports, and there's no question we've been caught up with it.

"The Mitchell Report had to chase the facts, and it led them to the concentration of New York. Nobody's happy about what has taken place here. Let's put it that way: We understand the process and we're trying to learn from it, and that's the biggest thing. Whatever is troubling and difficult, you have to absorb it and learn from it."

Cashman feels Girardi will be able to handle potential difficulties along the way, and Girardi said, "I think the players who play here always deal with distractions and I think they handle them very well. I don't think this is any different."

So, you think the Red Sox have problems with Curt Schilling? That stuff is mild compared to this and what lies ahead for Pettitte and the Yankees.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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