Notes: Pettitte looks good in debut

Notes: Pettitte impressive in return to pinstripes

ST. PETERSBURG -- With a few more gray hairs and a broader outlook, Andy Pettitte officially began his on-field return to the Yankees on Friday.

Making his first Grapefruit League appearance for New York since 2003, Pettitte threw two scoreless, hitless innings against the Devil Rays at Progress Energy Park. The left-hander threw 20 pitches -- 15 for strikes -- and recorded a strikeout.

"It was really nice to be back out there," Pettitte said. "Once you get out on the mound, you forget what [uniform] you have on. It's still just the mitt and trying to make quality pitches. It was great to be back out there and get the first one under my belt."

Pettitte used the appearance to tinker with different grips on his curveball, but his greatest satisfaction seemed to come from his changeup, which he has vowed to continue using in order to be more of a complete pitcher.

"He was a guy you counted on all the time, even though you always mentioned another guy's name first," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "What you see now is more polished. One thing Andy did every year was get better."

The one strikeout Pettitte recorded in the contest, getting Jorge Cantu swinging in the second inning, came on a change.

"If I can throw that all year," Pettitte said, "I'd be all right."

Watching Pettitte throw darts in a Yankees uniform fit so well, it was almost as if he'd never left. It was even more incomprehensible that Pettitte actually considered retirement after last season.

As the Houston Astros' 2006 campaign wore down to its final days, Pettitte's left elbow began barking, further complications in a 14-13 season that Pettitte felt should have turned out much better than it did.

Torre had kept in close contact with Pettitte following his departure for Houston after the 2003 season and connected for friendly chats with the left-hander over the summer, describing Pettitte as disappointed and somewhat confused.

On the mound, Pettitte felt good enough, on his way to a second consecutive 200-plus-innings season. But the results weren't matching the effort, and as Pettitte's ERA rounded out to a 4.20 mark, he wondered if his pitching days had come to an end.

"I didn't think my arm would allow me to pitch past the '06 season," Pettitte said.

He voiced those concerns to Torre, who now admits that he didn't believe him.

"I dismissed it, based on the fact that at the end of the year, we're all frustrated," Torre said.

The manager's instincts proved correct as Pettitte began tossing in the offseason, surprising himself by how good he felt.

The timing was right for Torre's recruitment pitch, which commenced over numerous offseason telephone calls, one reunion dinner of the 1996 Yankees at Chelsea Piers in New York, and culminated in a one-year contract in December.

Pettitte remembered Torre's pleas as such: "We want you back. Just come back." Eventually, after the initial shock of the Yankees' continued interest, Pettitte did just that, inking a one-year agreement with an option for 2008.

On a breezy March afternoon in St. Petersburg, his pitches sending two innings worth of Devil Rays batters back to the bench empty-handed, it appeared Pettitte had made the correct decision.

"You want to go where you feel like you're wanted," Pettitte said.

In Alabama: The mother of first baseman Andy Phillips, who was involved in a serious automobile accident this week in Alabama, is resting comfortably while evaluations of her condition continue.

Pettitte has been keeping in touch with Phillips and told reporters that the accident involved an 18-wheel truck that ran a red light and hit the driver's side of Phillips' mother's vehicle, causing significant trauma.

Phillips has been granted an indefinite leave of absence from the club and will continue to call Pettitte daily. Pettitte is relaying updates to the Yankees.

Murcer update: Yankees broadcaster Bobby Murcer has completed a six-week chemotherapy program at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and has returned to his home in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Murcer's wife, Kay, e-mailed Yankees media relations head Jason Zillo with an update on the former big-league outfielder, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and is continuing treatment.

The Murcers stopped in Dallas on their way back to Oklahoma City to spend time with friends and family, including two grandchildren. Murcer will return to Houston for further testing on March 18.

Longtime buds: Longtime Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer, now a special advisor for Tampa Bay, can't help but tweak Yogi Berra each time their paths cross.

The topic is Jackie Robinson's storied steal of home plate in the 1955 World Series. Berra -- catching for the Yankees against the Dodgers -- continues to insist that he got the tag down, and that Robinson should have been ruled out by plate umpire Bill Summers.

Like any good friend, Zimmer just can't let the point go -- Berra's reactions are too priceless.

"I'll see him and say, 'Jackie was safe,'" Zimmer laughed Friday. "And he'll growl, 'What do you mean?'"

Their paths crossed again at Progress Energy Park, as they huddled for a spirited pregame conversation near the first-base dugout. After the chat, Zimmer beamed that Berra had been the one to initiate the greeting.

"Yogi Berra is a Hall of Famer; I'm a .235 hitter," Zimmer said. "For Yogi Berra to come over and shake hands with me, what do you think that does? That's a real good feeling."

Listen up: The Yankees and WCBS have reached a multi-year agreement to continue as the team's flagship station.

WCBS 880 AM will carry all of the Yankees' regular and postseason games, as well as six exhibition games this spring. Veteran announcers John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman will once again call the action.

WCBS will also continue to produce Yankees broadcasts in Spanish, with all games to be aired on 92.7 FM, WZAA.

This and that: The March 29 game against the Toronto Blue Jays has been changed to a 7 p.m. ET start time. The contest will be televised on YES. ... Righty Humberto Sanchez (right forearm strain) is still receiving treatment, but is expected to return to throwing in the next day or two. Torre called the treatments "precautionary." ... Non-roster invitee Chris Basak hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning Friday.

Quotable: "That didn't surprise me. The only thing that has surprised me is that Roger Clemens hasn't come with him yet." -- Zimmer, on Pettitte's return to pinstripes

Coming up: The Yankees play the third game of their exhibition schedule on Saturday, facing off against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 1:15 p.m. start. Right-hander Mike Mussina will make his first start of the spring for New York, with left-hander Shane Youman on the hill for the Bucs.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.