The bad news was that, deprived of those valuable exhibition innings, he ran out of steam halfway through. Pettitte was roughed up for five runs on Saturday in the Bronx, spoiling a warm reception from the home crowd. Jonny Gomes hit a three-run homer and Willy Aybar also went deep as the Yankees fell to Tampa Bay, 6-3.
"I didn't have anything today," Pettitte said. "I feel bad for Jorge [Posada]; I didn't give him anything to work with. I didn't have my cutter at all and couldn't throw a curveball for a strike the whole day. It wasn't a real good day at all. It's obviously disappointing."
The day began on a brighter note for Pettitte, who made his first appearance since a tumultuous winter that included multiple trips to Washington, D.C., for testimony in front of a Congressional committee and also a frightening incident where his 13-year-old son, Josh, suffered broken bones and a head injury in a December four-wheeler accident.
The receptions may be less encouraging for Pettitte as he travels on with the Yankees, having admitted to his own personal use of performance-enhancing drugs and also providing testimony implicating former teammate Roger Clemens. But as they did in Tampa and on Opening Day in New York, Yankees fans embraced Pettitte, cracking Pettitte's usual wall of on-field seclusion.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say that it was great," Pettitte said. "It was much appreciated. I wish I could have given them a better performance than that for my first start. They might have given me a better reception than they've ever given me before here.
"I've been in this organization for a long, long time and tried to be myself always. It's nice to be received the way that they did."
For reasons that he said were unrelated to the ovation, Pettitte said he felt mentally disconnected from the afternoon affair in the Bronx. Pettitte surrendered two unearned runs in the third inning, a frame extended by a Shelley Duncan throwing error, and served up the three-run shot to Gomes in the fifth before he completed his workload, having tossed 86 pitches (55 for strikes).
"There was no doubt I ran out of gas there," Pettitte said. "I didn't have a whole lot of options at that point of where to go. These guys are a good team and good hitters; they've got good power and good speed. If you make bad pitches, they're going to make you pay for it."
Hindered by lower back spasms late last month, Pettitte had not faced a big league team since March 17, when he twirled against the Red Sox in the only Grapefruit League meeting between the two AL East rivals. Pettitte's back locked up as he drove home on March 20, and his on-field action was limited to facing the Yankees' Triple-A lineup 10 days later.
"He might be a little bit rusty," said acting manager Rob Thomson. "As we get going here and [Pettitte] gets into his routine, he's going to be fine. The ball came out of his hand pretty good, and he showed good stuff early. He got a little bit tired at the end, and that's due to the inactivity."
"I've got a lot of work to do," Pettitte said. "I'm looking forward to continuing to get out there every fifth day and get my strength and get my pitches together."
The Yankees got on the board in the first inning on a run-scoring Alex Rodriguez double, but Rays right-hander Edwin Jackson was able to stifle strong threats in the next two frames, stranding five men aboard.
Jackson limited the Yankees to the one run on five hits over six innings, walking two and striking out four. The Yankees' vaunted offense, considered a threat to score 1,000 runs this season, went silent again for an extended period of time, with no Yankees hitters reaching base between Hideki Matsui's fourth-inning single and Bobby Abreu's single leading off the eighth.
"A lot of us could be trying too hard and trying to make a difference with one swing of the bat instead of keeping the line moving," Johnny Damon said. "There are only a few guys going right now, and that makes it tough on those guys."
Brian Bruney threw two scoreless innings, striking out four, but Aybar hit a solo home run leading off the eighth against right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. The Yankees rallied in the bottom half, loading the bases with none out against lefty Trever Miller, and Posada came through with a two-run single to center. Al Reyes got Duncan to bounce out with two men on to end the threat.
"I thought we had them on the ropes," Thomson said.
Gomes had an eventful afternoon on top of four RBIs. Gomes started trotting on a second-inning drive to deep right field that he believed was a home run, but Abreu fielded the ball off the top of the wall and threw to Derek Jeter, who tagged Gomes in the baseline between first and second. Gomes also lost a Matsui fly ball between the sun and the shadows in the second inning.
The loss made two in a row for Thomson, the Yankees' bench coach, who filled in as manager Joe Girardi missed another game with an upper respiratory infection. Caught as he exited Yankee Stadium shortly after the final out was recorded, Girardi paused and said he expected to return to the dugout on Sunday.
"It's starting to break, I think," Girardi said. "My fever was 103 yesterday and 101 today. I think I will be back on [Sunday]."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.