Yankees' short-rest strategy continues

Yanks' short-rest strategy continues

PHILADELPHIA -- The dominoes have fallen, and Joe Girardi's strategy is now all but locked into place. After watching one of his three trusted starting pitchers, A.J. Burnett, falter on short rest in Game 5 of the World Series on Monday, the Yankees' manager will likely proceed with another such starter, Andy Pettitte, in Wednesday's Game 6.

If it works, Girardi will look like a genius. If not, his strategy will come under fire.

Either way, it should be compelling.

Assuming Pettitte feels fine heading into Tuesday afternoon's workout at Yankee Stadium, Girardi will proceed with the lefty on short rest in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium. That's significant, considering Pettitte has not pitched a game on short rest since 2007 and that he received extra rest on every one of his starts down the stretch -- in part to reduce strain on his 37-year-old left shoulder.

Perhaps Girardi grew bullish considering the successes of CC Sabathia, who won on three days' rest in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, who kept the Yankees in the game before repeating the trick in Game 4 of the World Series, and who gained a reputation as a short-rest guru down the stretch with the Brewers last season.

But perhaps his confidence has now dwindled. After the Phillies knocked Burnett out of Game 5 in the third inning, the strategy of a three-man rotation -- whether Girardi is willing to admit it or not -- becomes questionable.

"I didn't think about it," Burnett said of pitching on short rest for the first time this season. "It's just a matter of throwing strikes. No rest wasn't an issue. I felt strong. I felt great. I just didn't get it done."

He didn't come particularly close. Against the same team he dominated on full rest in Game 2, Burnett faced 15 batters and allowed nine of them to reach base. Neither he nor Girardi believed his rest was an issue.

"I don't think there was any correlation," Girardi said. "He just lacked command tonight, similar to what he did in Anaheim, but he was able to recover better there. Tonight, he just wasn't able to get it going."

If not an issue, though, the lack of rest is nonetheless a concern. Leading the World Series, 3-1, Girardi could have chosen to start Chad Gaudin, his fifth starter down the stretch, in Game 5, thereby using Burnett on full rest in a potential Game 6 and Sabathia on short rest in a potential Game 7 -- with Pettitte available either night out of the bullpen.

Andy Pettitte can become the 10th pitcher to win two World Series clinchers, having done so for the 1998 Yanks. The first nine:
Pitcher Years Team(s)
Art Nehf 1921-22 NY Giants
Wilcy Moore 1927, '32 Yankees
Lefty Gomez 1936-37 Yankees
Vic Raschi 1949, '51 Yankees
Allie Reynolds 1952-53 Yankees
Sandy Koufax 1963, '65 Dodgers
Bob Gibson 1964, '67 Cardinals
Catfish Hunter 1973, '78 A's, Yankees
Jimmy Key 1992, '96 Blue Jays, Yankees

Instead, Girardi opted to tread into foreign territory with Burnett, and he will walk on even stranger ground with Pettitte in Game 6. Though Pettitte is 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA in five postseason starts on short rest, he hasn't attempted the trick since Game 2 of the 2003 World Series -- and he was squarely in his prime back then.

Now, Pettitte is 37 years old with a sometimes-cranky left shoulder, and there's no telling how his arm might respond. Girardi is asking him to do something he hasn't done in years.

The Yankees, though, must have faith. They are still leading the World Series, 3-2. They are heading home, where their lineup will grow more formidable with Hideki Matsui at designated hitter and Jorge Posada behind the plate. And they know that even if they lose Game 6, they will have Sabathia on the mound in Game 7.

"It's definitely a comfort," outfielder Johnny Damon said. "But we know what happens sometimes with pitchers, so we'd rather not take that chance. We have total faith in him if we do go to Game 7, but we want to try to win [Game 6]. We want to try to close it out."

Short rest, Damon and the Yankees know, is not always bad. Sabathia, thanks in large part to his massive frame, is an expert at it. In other eras, pitchers such as Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax started -- and won -- World Series games on as little as two days' rest, doing it quite effectively. As recently as 2003, then-Marlins pitcher Josh Beckett closed out the Yankees on three days' rest in Game 6 of the Series.

Just because Pettitte hasn't done it in a while, doesn't mean it can't be done. And so the Yankees headed home early Tuesday morning knowing that they remain in control.

"It's good to be home," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "It's hard to sweep three in a row on the road. That's a very good team over there. And now we go home in front of our fans in our stadium, with Andy on the mound."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.