Now, as Sabathia endures what he said has been his most trying time as a professional, Pettitte is returning the favor. The left-handers have remained in communication as Sabathia attempts to reinvent himself via Pettitte's late-career blueprint.
"He's just got to stay with it," Pettitte said. "He's got to trust himself. He's been a great pitcher for so, so long. He has to continue to go out there and take one pitch at a time. I know it sounds like a cliche, but just continue to work. I tried to work my way through it and I would just tell him the same thing. I think it'll change."
Pettitte lives in the Houston area and said he was invited by the Yankees' staff to slip a uniform back on and throw batting practice with the team in town. Being able to score some face-to-face time with Sabathia is just a bonus; they have been in communication a few times per week via phone calls and text messages.
"I ask him a million questions. I always have," Sabathia said. "That's how I am, I guess. I don't know if he can catch every game, but he'll call me and say, 'Hey, I caught this,' or, 'I saw this pitch in the third inning.' He's pretty good about that."
Sabathia can use that sounding board. He is 3-7 with a 5.65 ERA in 15 starts and, with the Yankees already trying to fit six starters into five slots, might be hearing serious discussion about heading to the bullpen if not for the $23 million due his way this year. Pettitte's view is that Sabathia does not seem to be too far off, and he should stay the course.
"It's been hard for me to not scrap everything and start throwing sidearm, submarine," Sabathia said. "Right now, he's been that constant, 'Keep plugging away, keep plugging away.'"
"I think we've all been there if you played long enough," Pettitte said. "When you're in those ruts, it seems like you're never going to get out of it."
Sabathia has remained tough on left-handed hitters, who are managing just a .195/.202/.256 split line against him, but the 34-year-old's difficulties have been pronounced against right-handed hitters. They have compiled a .339/.374/.580 split, a resulting .954 OPS that essentially equals what Mike Trout has done for the Angels this year.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that, despite different arsenals, Pettitte should have plenty to offer Sabathia in terms of going after hitters with reduced stuff and the importance of pitch location.
"CC was really a fastball-slider-change, where Andy was more fastball-cutter-curveball," Girardi said. "It's just as you get older, understanding who you are. The mental part of it, understanding I don't have my 95s and 96s anymore, I have to compete a little bit different and be a little bit smarter. I think that's the biggest way he can help."
Sabathia said that he believes his changeup and backdoor cutter have been reliable, and that his two-seamer has been effective at times. He called that "some stuff to build on," and the challenge for both Sabathia and Pettitte is to now see it translate into consistent results.
"I remember telling people towards the end of my career I thought I was better than I ever was," Pettitte said. "It just goes to show, you can turn it around and right the ship. Hopefully he'll finish up with a strong second half of the season."